Article Category Archives: Fiction

Air France

Somewhere in France, 1634

 

The first rays of dawn touched his face, awakening him gently to a new day. Two heads on the same pillow were all that were not tucked warmly under the woolen covers topping the tavern’s fine feather bed. His eyes still closed, Jacques slowly drifted his hand down the soft, smooth curve of her back. He came to a stop at the last curve of her waist. She breathed heavily, still asleep from the night’s exertions, barely stirring from the lightness of his touch.

“What is her name?” His mind raced. He had no idea. She faced away from him and all he could see was the tangle of dark hair which obscured her face.

With blurry eyes, he tried to focus on the cracks in the ceiling, imperfectly hidden by the recently applied whitewash. Clearing the cobwebs of sleep, he hoped her name would come to him. The familiar plaster of the post and beam walls of the fifty-year-old room offered no whispered clue. He looked at the basin and pitcher on the finely-crafted wash stand, then across the floor at their clothes, tossed randomly in the heat of passion the night before. None of this helped either.

He took a heavy breath and marveled again at such fine accommodations. As a former townsman, he was still unaccustomed to the kind of life he lived here at le Laboratoire, though it had been nearly six months since he had received the invitation to come and work at the facility, one of France’s closest-held secrets. That such fine accommodations were made available to those who worked here was testimony to the importance of their task—to perfect an aircraft design that would take France into the skies.

The floor of his room was clean, even if scratched and scuffed. Its wide wood planks extended from underneath the luxury of a Persian carpet. Elsewhere such carpets would have been displayed on the wall, but not now. The books at the Grantville library had shown them the luxury of such things and there wasn’t a noble in France that hadn’t thrown their carpets down on the floors to demonstrate their wealth and modernity, as shown in countless up-time books.

The upstairs bedrooms of the old tavern offered excellent beds. The recent redecorating had been welcome, indicating that the successes achieved so far at the Motor Vehicle Research Station had raised it even higher in the favor of Paris. His section of the Research Station was carefully named with intentional mystery to conceal its true purpose of achieving powered flight. They called it “le Laboratoire,” and this was the crown jewel of the Research Station’s efforts.

AS a result, the researchers and test pilots lived pampered lives. The furnishings were of the finest quality, the food elegant, the wines fit for nobility, and the girls . . . Ah, les filles—of the many things provided, the girls were the finest of all.

“What is her name?” he wondered again silently. “Should I ask? Or does it matter?”

After some consideration, he remembered his father’s advice about women: “Yes, it always matters.”

The least he could do was remember their names, but with so many, that was not an easy task. The party last night had been a grand affair, given in his honor as the newly-promoted First Pilot of le Laboratoire. He was proud of his role and pleased to be selected the first among the cadre that had assembled to test the skies. As the First Pilot, his name would be forever remembered and written in the annals of history. He was Jacques de Nonette, the one selected to fly the newest “aero machine” in the morning.

The researchers and pilots, after long debate, had decided that the correct term for such a machine was “aero machine.” The term airplane sounded too English and was not at all pleasing to the ear. Moreover, to call it an airplane might imply that they had copied the works of the others. They were building machines for the air—aero machines—and he was one of the lucky ones who had been chosen to fly them.

For pilots like Jacques, there was music, good wine, distilled spirits, and les filles—always les filles. They were all young, busty brunettes, and all so very willing as the tavern girls were hired to be. Les filles were a way of distracting the pilots at le Laboratoire from what they faced every time they flew, or more accurately, tried to fly. Also, they kept the men from sneaking off to town where, after a few drinks, they might give away the secrets of the Station. There were many who would pay dearly to know of the works and progress.

“What is her name?” he asked himself again. “Antoinette?” He paused, his brow furrowed in concentration. “Yes, Antoinette.”

Then he reconsidered—No. Antoinette was Tuesday. It must be Martine? Or was it Lucie? Juliette? After so many conquests, how could a man remember?

Despite all the girls and trysts of the past six months, the one conquest that mattered most to him had been the most elusive; to fly under power one of the new aero machines across the sky of the Research Station. Gliding they had achieved, but not yet powered flight. However, today was the day that it would all change. It felt like a new door had opened to a future where France could fly—and fight. They had fixed the last problems, though the flames from that last crash had nearly burned all the evidence of what had gone wrong. They must have done it correctly this time, he reasoned. Today, it was his turn, and he was confident that he would succeed.

He smiled. It would be a glorious day.

Then with a start he said out loud, “Mon Dieu! I’m supposed to be at the hanger at dawn.”

He nudged her gently, even if he was still uncertain of her name. She didn’t move. He nudged again, and then started to slide himself out of the bed slowly. Then, with a sudden flash, it came to him; this was Martine. He jostled her awake more urgently now, whispering, “Martine, Martine . . .”

Her eyes lazily opened, “Oui?

“Martine,” he spoke louder with more confidence, “I have to go fly now. Pray for me.” With a final push, he slid free of the bed and landed on the floor with a thud.

She rolled over to look at him, smiled, and nodded. He stood from the floor and stretched, then pulled on his linen overalls and shiny black flight boots. Turning quickly, he opened the glazed window, opaque with its wavy and bubbled glass, and gazed out beyond the village and across the fields of the Research Station to check if things were already stirring there. Spread before him in the soft morning sun were all the secrets of le Laboratoire. This was the place that would carry France to success in the air.

The flying field with its winter brown stubble, was wide and clear. It had once been a simple pasture but no longer. Now it was trimmed closely to ensure the tall grasses would not snag the landing skid of one of the aero machines gliders on landing.

Bare trees lined the edges of the field, their dense limbs shielding the winds. As well, they served as a screen to block the prying eyes of those who might seek to look in and know what was taking place on the field. A hill on the other side of the main field supported a long, black ramp that had been built to launch their aero machines. The bottom of the ramp was crafted much like one of the ski jumps that he had seen on screen at the electric theater in Grantville. The ramp was his own innovation, one of the things that he was most proud of from his time at the Research Station. It angled sharply skyward so as to launch the aero machine gliders into the air once they completed their run downhill to gain speed. They had done it many times with the gliders and now they hoped that the power of a gasoline engine would let them do more than glide once they had cleared the end of the ramp.

He considered the words of Le Compte, the man who had sponsored le Laboratoire, “With wings, no battle can be lost! No enemy can hide or move undetected! No message cannot get through! And think of it, Jacques, you will be one of the pilots to achieve it!”

The small corps of pilots stayed full time at the Research Station, which offered safety and security from discovery. Jacques had been there since returning from Grantville. There, at the library, he had quietly done his part of the research that France needed to learn how to fly. He and the others had made huge strides.

The others . . . He paused, remembering their faces. Among the first cadre of pilots who had traveled to Grantville, he was the last still alive. Grimly, he knew too that this was the reason that he was now First Pilot. The others ahead of him, perhaps better than him, had all died. He advanced to this position not by skill, knowledge, or talent, but by the simple fact of being the last survivor. All of the other pilots at the tavern were new faces, men who had not gone to Grantville in the early days. They picked up where the others left off, learning the lessons from each crash—and each death—in hopes of carrying forward and finally achieving flight. With sadness, one of the engineers at le Laboratoire had once confided to Jacques that they learned more from the crashes than from the successes. Jacques had vowed that they would learn nothing from him. He would never crash, so he told himself. And so far, he had been proven correct in his assumptions.

So far, he reminded himself. So far.

The losses they had suffered among the pilots were to be expected, of course. Still, it was not supposed to be like this. There weren’t supposed to have been this many losses. They began with the aero machine gliders. Step by step—or more properly, crash by crash—they had learned the ways of flight. The costs of those lessons were measured in empty chairs at the dinner table. Each time, however, a week or two would pass, and then the empty chairs would be filled with fresh, new, and always bright young faces. Each new pilot was full of confidence and immortality at the beginning. Each eager to learn and build on the preceding accomplishments. Each was a smiling face in his memory with a devil-may-care attitude that toasted the fates.

Those attitudes lasted until a friend or two was lost. Then each would come to recognize the peril of this business at le Laboratoire. The day they lost their closest friend usually marked when they would more earnestly take solace in the arms of les filles.

Yet it hadn’t been for naught, at least that was what Jacques kept telling himself. The lessons learned had been extraordinary. They had learned where the balance point should be along the wing. They understood how the controls should be wired. By trial and repeated error, they had learned what was too heavy to fly and how to lighten the fuselage and wings without losing too much strength. They had come to understand what wood to use and how to build a wing spar strong enough so it did not fold with catastrophic results.

Many men were buried beside the old red-yellow brick chapel that was across the street from the tavern. Their new tombstones were laid out in steady rows, almost as if to reassure those still living of their earnest work.

Suddenly he muttered out loud, “What will they write on my gravestone?”

Behind him, he heard movement on the bed as Martine sat up to listen. He glanced back and saw that she was regarding him with a seriousness he had not seen before. He winked, gave her a wry smile, and turned to look back across the flying field to the hangars beyond.

He fixed his mind on the upcoming flight—this was to be the first powered flight with an engine. Again, he repeated to himself that this day, today, would be His Day, the day that the name of the First Pilot, Jacques de Nonette, would be forever written into history. He smiled more broadly and turned to his armoire to retrieve his things.

First, he put on his best cap and adjusted its long white plume, his arm slowly curving back to ensure that it was straight and clear. This feather signified his rank among the pilots as the leader among their ranks—the First Pilot. Then he tightened his belt. He was the best of those still alive. Crash after crash, he had crawled from the wreckage, never seriously hurt. Flight after flight, he had landed successfully or at least walked away.

He had heard les filles whisper that he was blessed by God, that he was immortal. He didn’t trust that thought himself—not yet, at least—but he was thankful for the faith that somehow seemed to have propelled him to this point.

As he moved toward the door, he glanced back at Martine and caught a glimpse of her bright watchful eyes. She gazed at him over her pert turned-up, button nose. He hoped it wasn’t the final time he would see her face.

She had been resting her head on a hand, propped up on her elbow. He saw again that she was watching him carefully. He realized that perhaps it was true—les filles were there also to watch for signs of nervousness or weakness among the pilots. She had seen that first sign of weakness perhaps already when he had spoken accidentally aloud about his tombstone. If it was true, that they were reporting on all of the pilots to the commandant, then there was nothing he could do about that. He smiled at her and shrugged. He would give no further sign of the stress starting to build within him.

Making a show of it, he bowed low and said his adieux. She smiled and, as he walked out the door, she called after him, “Bonne chance! But remember next time I’m Claire. . . . I will tell Martine you’ve given her a very high compliment. . . .”

He laughed, shook his head, and closed the wooden door. Then he walked down the squeaky wooden stairs hoping he wasn’t too late for a quick déjeuner. There could be no better way to start the day. He hoped he could stomach a hunk of fresh baguette and knew the tavern would be well-stocked with rich, creamy butter. He hoped to take a slice of the fine aged cheese the kitchen often had at hand and an apple from the orchard just outside the village. That small, but impeccably-kept orchard had been attached to the horse farm before it became the Research Station.

He thought that with Claire, at least he had escaped one potentially disastrous challenge—not remembering her name—though that was only due to her forgiving him, after all. Anyway, he recognized with another shrug that he was not quite unscathed. Perhaps he would pay for that slip later. Anyway, a much greater challenge was ahead.

What he didn’t know was that the girl he left behind in his room was not overly offended that he had forgotten her name. The girls at the Research Station viewed the test pilots as their collective property. If any man got into the cockpit of a plane without having had his ashes recently hauled, it certainly was not their fault. Likewise, if you lived to walk into the tavern after “going up,” you knew before you could sit down you’d be dragged out of the common room for a proper hero’s welcome. Les filles took pride in their work, too, because they knew the importance of the effort.

Most of les filles had been brought down from Paris, where they had been in similar, though much less pleasant employment at one of the many brothels that the city offered. Most had been selected because of their beauty and little more. When they were selected, they hadn’t known to what purpose and had feared the worst. After being brought to the Research Station, however, they had come to know all too well that they were the lucky ones.

At the Research Station, unlike in the brothels, they were treated well. They were given the finest food, drink, and lodgings. They had the freedom to pick the men that were most to their liking. Nothing was forced on them. No money was charged. And they had developed a sisterhood that had one goal—to help achieve France’s first flights. They had each been told that when it was over, they would have a dowry for marriage. For them, the Research Station had been a dream ticket—to escape the slavery of the brothels and forget their past. Most were less educated and came from poor families. Some were destitute, orphaned, and without skills, except in the bedroom. But all had taken to the chance that was before them—as unlikely as it seemed, to escape a dark time in their lives and come to this, the Research Station, where all dreams came true—except for one dream which proved elusive, which was to fly.

Sadly too, they knew more than anyone at the Research Station, except perhaps the commandant and Jacques, the names of those who had died along the way. As a result, they became attached to those who survived the longest. Nobody had survived longer than Jacques. That les filles kept tabs on the pilots was suspected by the pilots, and it wasn’t incorrect. They did keep le Laboratoire‘s commandant appraised. If a pilot looked like they were about to break from the stress and risk, the girls would report it. The pilot would be given some time off, usually by assignment to work with the engineers for a few weeks, and then, when les filles thought he was ready, they would submit a follow-up report. It was a system that worked well and kept the morale of the pilots at the highest point. Despite the commandant’s original concern, none of the pilots had ever had to be grounded. A few weeks off here and there was all that was needed, despite the hazards that they had faced.

Downstairs in the tavern’s nearly empty great room, Jacques glanced at the back wall that contained rows of painted names and little sets of angel’s wings. At this early hour, there were only a couple of others at the tables. He shuddered inwardly, remembering the last smoking wreck at the base the hill. In that crash, he had found the charred remains of his good friend, still smoking and burned badly, twisted amidst the shattered boards and burned fabric. He had looked carefully, knowing that these were the charred remains of his best friend, Antoine.

Antoine had not deserved to die. The aero machine had launched upward into the air at the base of the ramp with the prototype engine mounted on the nose and the gasoline in the tank to ensure the right weight and balance. The flight was to have been a gliding test without the engine running. It was supposed to have been a short flight, straight ahead, and then a landing. Nothing to worry about, Antoine had said.

Jacques watched as Antoine had launched from the ramp. The aero machine was simply too heavy to fly. Worse yet, the balance was off, and the machine was nose-heavy. Instead of gliding to a smooth landing, the plane had arced down. With no way to pull out of the terminal dive, Antoine had simply ridden the aero machine downward into a terrible crash. He had probably realized that he was about to die in those last few seconds. The petrol on board had completed the catastrophe when it burst into flame. The fires had consumed everything, even melting the metal cylinders of the engine. The tank should have been full of water.

Jacques found himself fervently praying that Antoine’s death had come from the impact and not from the fire. Hastily, the engineers had built a new aero machine with a new engine. The balance issues were worked out now, hopefully. Jacques felt his chances of success were vastly better.

Antoine had missed a good party that night after the crash. The tradition was that if you didn’t make it back, the girls would throw a wake in your memory. It was a way of sending off the pilots to fly in heaven, to fly with the angels, as the saying went. The sadness of his passing hadn’t been felt just among the pilots, but also among les filles.

For Antoine, it had been Juliane, the girl who had last been with him and had perhaps loved him most. She took the lead at his party, but not without a fight to earn that right. Another girl had demanded to lead the wake. After a terrible spat that stopped just short of coming to blows, Juliane prevailed, winning out on the basis that she had spent last three nights with him. The others had nodded. There were rules to their world, dominated by nights with les pilotes. Three nights was the undisputed fact.

With great ceremony and tears, Juliane had added Antoine’s name along with a pair of bright pink angel’s wings to the others on the back wall of the common room. Hot-blooded pink was the traditional manly color for pilots now since, as everyone knew, pink was the color chosen for the first planes when they flew over Germany. As they painted wings on the wall, the other pilots looked on, feigning disinterest. Some looked quietly into their wine and beer.

Jacques, too, had viewed the party with a cold disinterest. To watch the painting of the pink wings on the wall was the best way he knew to honor his old friend, but he was afraid enough of showing fear that he chose to be almost heartless about it—at least on the outside. Quickly, he muttered to himself, “Fly with the angels, my friend.”

With the painting done, he emptied his wine and turned the glass bottom side up on the table. “C’est la guerre,” he had said out loud, remembering the line from a pilot’s biography that he had read at Grantville recounting the tales of flying in the future air war over France and England in 1940.

He wondered, too, did the Germans have a wall of pink wings and memories? Surely, they, too, were pressing ahead in the development of the next generation of aero machines there.

As he finished his breakfast, he vowed to himself, “I’ll be damned if they have such a party tonight.” There were already too many bright pink sets of wings painted on the back wall.

Suddenly, he felt Claire’s presence behind him. He turned and caught her smile. She leaned in to kiss his lips, a bit more hungrily than necessary.

Non, Claire,” he said making sure that this time he said her name with confidence. “You know I have a test flight now.”

She gave a fake pout.

“You’ll have to wait for me to get back.”

“But you might not be coming back,” she said softly. He detected a tone in her voice that she might be testing him, to see if he was showing too much stress to fly. Non, this would be His Day. He smiled and shook his head.

“Eh, what? And disappoint ma petite Claire?” He gave her a sound slap on the rump. Then he leaned up from his seat and kissed the top of her head. It was a good thing that whoever did the recruiting liked petite women.

She laughed, but then became serious. “If you make me draw your angel’s wings on the wall, I’ll never talk to you again.”

****

 

The Flight

 

Jacques stood in the dewy winter-brown grass atop the hill. It had taken some time to walk this far, and the camp below was alive with the morning’s activity. The top of the hill was quietly known among the pilots as the col de la mort, the hill of death. For a time, the commandant had tried to ban the name, saying it was bad for morale, but among the flyers, it had had the opposite effect.

From the hilltop, the launch ramp traced its downward path, with the pylons longer and shorter all the way down to smooth out the dips and undulations carved by nature into the slope. A massive dead weight drop dangled off the top of the tower just to the right side of the ramp. The falling weight helped fling the gliders into the air; a trick learned from a book they had found about the Wright Brothers and their flights in France in—Jacques strained to remember—yes, the date in the books at Grantville had been 1908.

The wooden ramp was painted with a flat black tar and turpentine mixture, giving it a somehow sinister look. The turpentine ensured that the tar soaked into the wood and the tar ensured that the ramp could handle rain and all types of weather without deteriorating. It had been built to last. France was in all the way—the research here would be successful, so the sponsors said, no matter how long it took.

Jacques stared across the field at the compound beyond. At the center was what had been a noble’s prized horse farm. The man had run afoul of Cardinal Richelieu and lost everything, even his life. The place was officially named the Motor Vehicle Research Station. However, everybody involved referred to it as the Horse Farm. A lot of work on many different projects was underway at the Research Station, but if you were a pilot, the place was simply called “le Laboratoire,” since the rest was, in their very vocal opinion, completely unimportant.

The fine manor house, where the deposed noble had lived when visiting his racing stables, did excellent service as the quarters for the Research Station’s senior officers and the commandant. The adjacent grand stables had been the first workshops for motor vehicle research and still housed the steam engine works, reflecting their place as the oldest project on the site. The steam-driven wagons were working very well, that is, as Jacques knew all too well, when they were working at all. It seemed to take longer to get their steam up than to just walk wherever you were going. Still, once the steam was up, they were as fast or faster than horses. Of course, sometimes they blew up.

Over the many months, the rest of the farm had been steadily expanded to meet the needs of ever more researchers and projects. The gas engine researchers had their own buildings, constructed in the traditional style. These were built by Danish workers impressed to the task and kept on hand for the next expansion, all the while hoping someday to make it back to Denmark. Jacques smiled, they were told that lie from time to time to keep them at work, but in truth, they had seen too much of what was going on to ever make it back. In the end, secret plans called for them to receive a free trip to America. Their work had been first-class, with post and beam buildings and stucco-finished walls that were quick to build and, most importantly, thick enough to protect the other buildings from the fires and explosions that resulted from the handling of hazardous fuels and oils. Explosions were not rare.

Most recently, a rubber division started up. Using landing skids on the aero machines wouldn’t do for proper take offs. What was fine for a glider, wasn’t suitable for a heavier plane. Proper tires were needed. The rubber division was housed in a new small building hastily erected near the stables.

The Danish workers had also constructed a behemoth dirigible hangar. It held the efforts to develop a lighter-than-air, powered dirigible, like the Zeppelin that one of the researchers had found in a book about the Great War of 1914. Jacques shrugged, wondering briefly if the dirigible would prove more capable of flight than any of the aero machines. Once the first dirigible launched, he felt sure a competition would likely develop, but for now, all was quiet on that front.

Despite the size of the dirigible hangar, the black ramp and catapult system on the col de la mort still dominated the airfield. Jacques had taken many glider flights from the top of the hill. They overcame the lack of rubber for wheels in a simple way—a landing skid at the bottom of the aero machine, which also kept the machine on the ramp between the rails.

Except for the fevered pace that had marked the construction of the buildings, to call the progress on the station’s key project slow was charitable.

As Jacques surveilled the scene, he was shocked to see that at the base of the hill, right beside the ramp, one of the working steam cars had been carelessly left parked. A wisp of smoke escaped from its forward stack, indicating that it was still hot and with steam. His brow furrowed, and he spat into the grass. This was unacceptable. At le Laboratoire, a superstition had arisen. Steam cars were a bad influence on aero machines. Earlier on, those injured in the numerous accidents were usually hurried from the field on the back of a waiting steam car. They were the fastest transport available when one was ready and waiting. Medical attention was provided at the research station’s hospital if you weren’t killed in the crash, and it was the very best available.

The use of steam cars for this ambulance service, however, gave rise to ugly rumors. As a result, it was decided that the cars were a bad influence on aero machines. Jacques, like many others, imagined the steam cars whispering, perhaps in the secret tongue of machines, that the idea was to move on the ground, rather than rise into the air.

The distrust of steam cars was rooted, too, in the natural rivalry that had developed between the different research teams. After a few deaths on the flight ramp, however, that had all changed. You could keep a black cat in the hangar, but you dared not let a steam car or any other mechanically-propelled vehicle anywhere near an aero machine on the day of a test flight. Many pilots would consider themselves fully justified refusing to get into a cockpit for at least twenty-four hours if a steam car crossed the grass field or approached the hangar on the day of a scheduled flight. Most of the pilots were so adamant about it that in more recent months, the ambulance service and fire brigades had returned to the use of six-horse carriages. Everyone agreed that it was pure superstition, but the pilots were a pampered lot. The commandant had ordered it, simply because this was the way they wanted it.

Anyway, aero machines, not steam cars, were the future and the new hallmark of the Research Station. The steam car researchers and drivers soon realized it was best to respect the superstition since any crash would be routinely blamed on the nearest steam car if one was in sight.

Yet one was parked at the bottom of the ramp—and it was the day of Jacques’ flight.

Jacques regarded the steam car coldly. He was not naturally superstitious, but this was different. This could be no casual mistake. He wondered who had parked it there and why? Surely, he surmised, someone was trying to send him a message.

After a deep breath, he crossed himself and decided to fly anyway. A message had been sent, and it had been received, loud and clear. He had no rivals among the other pilots. Those more experienced than him were either dead or injured and retired. Those who had filled the ranks all looked up to him as a survivor and professional. He spat. He recalled all too well that this wasn’t the first such message he had received. At least that was how he interpreted some of the strange events that he had seen over the months at the Research Station.

What plan was afoot? What rivalry? What quiet hatred was enough to seek to curse him to death? He pondered that silently as a ground crewman trudged up the col to his side.

Before the man made it halfway to the top, Jacques called down to him, “Get the steam car moved. We’ve got some flying to do.”

The man turned and looked back, then let out a short scream when he saw the car parked at the base of the ramp. Abruptly, he ran down and off to the buildings in the distance. He would have to fetch one of the steam car engineers to take the car away.

Jacques shook his head. There was no use in running, as it would be another half hour before they were ready to fly anyway. The bonfire pits that were used to generate guaranteed updraft for gliders were still cold. He thought about that for a moment and then remembered that nobody would be using the two-seat glider for pilot training today. Further, lighting fires beneath a petrol-burning aero machine wasn’t a good idea anyway.

He began the long climb up the col to the top, in preparation for the flight. He was glad that he carried only himself and pitied the poor engineers who often had to bring tool boxes, fuel, spare parts, and more. It was always a tiring climb, even so, and he did it on foot, as a usual tip of the hat to superstition. Every time he had climbed the col on foot, he had survived, so this wasn’t something he would change.

In the gliders, Jacques had flown many flights over the bonfire pits. Even if he had become quite expert at flight, he remembered how the previous First Pilot, Thibaut, who was “no longer flying,” came to his end. He had been testing a glider on which they had mounted a motor. The glider had come down in some trees, another disaster while testing the handling and balance with a motor fitted. After the test, the designers admitted that the engine was too heavy for mounting on a glider, and that either a lighter engine or a heavier aero machine would be needed. They had opted for the heavier aero machine, since it would be easier to fashion from wood and the common skills that they already had. Hence, the aero machine that he was to fly today had been built and, even if rushed, Jacques felt it was a good design.

As Jacques stood there, he spied a pair of oxen exiting the hangar. The newest aero machine was atop a cart and dragged behind. In front of that, a group of six men, all dressed in the gray tunics of the hangar crew, were attending the movement. Steadily, they hauled the aero machine across the field and up the col to the top of the ramp. Jacques watched it calmly, marveling at the beauty of the latest creation of the engineers. Rushed, he reminded himself, but it was a thing of beauty all the same.

The new aero machine was a linen-covered and wood-framed biplane powered by a newly-built rotary motor and fitted with Grantville’s latest design in spark plugs. The spark plug research team at the research station finally had something that they claimed would work even if they were the size of a child’s fist. For the French engineers working in le Laboratoire, reproducing twentieth-century spark plugs had proven to be impossibly difficult. Thus, after many trials and failures, the researchers had simply bought several from Grantville.

As all knew, metal works were the key in engine technologies. The iron for the latest engine had been laboriously hammered out by a blacksmith. The man usually made swords and knives, and his talents at that allowed him to develop a relatively light casing for the cylinders and the other moving parts. The forge burned only the finest oak charcoal. A bellows would heat the fires in the forge to white-hot flames. The metal was then carefully worked, hammered, shaped, and then dipped not in water but olive oil to temper the pieces to greater strength. They were almost impossibly lightweight, yet stronger than any metals made by anyone in all of France, so the blacksmith had told Jacques.

Even with all of the blacksmith’s expert efforts, the weight of the rotary engine was still too high when compared with up-time motors. They would make do, and Jacques recognized that this was a small step, but an important one.

If he could sustain a flight around the field before landing, they would have made a huge step forward in their quest to build France its first successful aero machine. After two crashes of prior aero machines with the engine mounted for gliding tests, the decision had been made to fly with the engine running. There would be no more tests with the engine mounted but not running.

Progress would have been faster if some of the other projects had come through as promised. Jacques heard there was a research station somewhere else trying to get a Bessemer converter to work and to turn iron into steel. When they met their goal, the need for the blacksmith’s best efforts in iron was at an end. Yet, like so many of the projects, they kept promising results “in a month.” Then another month or two would pass with little news and probably less progress.

As Jacques experienced first-hand, reading the information in the books only generally pointed the way to a workable solution. This applied to almost every project, not just the challenges of achieved powered flight. In the books, details were typically lacking, as if the readers already knew all the basics, which perhaps they would, though only at some time in the future. As a result, achieving the promise of the literature often proved seemingly impossible.

As Clausewitz said, “In war everything is simple. But the simple is very difficult.” This was a war, though it was a war of knowledge, to conquer not land, but the world of ideas. Along the way, Jacques considered, there were already many casualties.

Before climbing the col to the top of the ramp, Jacques had gone to the hangar to grab his flying helmet and a pair of goggles. He thought with a laugh that he must have cut quite a sharp figure at the top of the col, standing in his flight clothing, wearing his helmet with the goggles perched on top as the men worked their way across the field with the aero machine in tow behind the ox team. He was glad that none were close enough to see that he was winded from the long climb up—too much good living with les filles, he mused. He saw in the distance that the commandant had come out and, spotting him on the top of the col, waved. That would be reassuring, Jacques thought, knowing the commandant would see his early arrival at the col as a sign of calm and eagerness to fly.

The sound of birds chirping from the trees and bushes behind the hill was a good sign. It promised to be a good day for a flight. The wind was almost non-existent. A soft dampness clung to the grass under his feet. The winter was still upon them, but in the south of France, the temperatures were more reasonable. His breath still made a slight fog, even though it wasn’t that cold. That too was good—he didn’t understand why, but whenever he flew the gliders, he seemed to go longer on colder mornings. The reasons for this were probably buried in some book on aerodynamics that was yet to be found in Grantville.

The biplane, towed by the pair of oxen, had arrived at the bottom of the col and started making its way steadily upward. Despite its two wings, this new model was lighter than the monoplane that took Thibaut to his death. Still, it was heavier than even the two-seat gliders Jacques had flown. Those he considered safe because, so long as a wing or tail didn’t break, you could bring the gliders to nearly walking speed on touchdown. Even if you made a mistake, you usually walked away from the wreck. This new aero machine would be much heavier. He knew that would mean that he would have to fly faster at touchdown to get the necessary lift from the wings.

As well, the landing skid would slow the gliders quickly once the glider had touched down. As the skid dug in after landing, quite a few had dropped a wing, which stuck to the ground, spinning the whole thing around. Most of the time when that happened, the pilot simply got out of the broken glider and walked away. With the new aero machine, the heavier weight would also mean that if a wing touched, it would likely sheer off, rather than spin the machine around.

The heavier biplane design was still the right choice for the challenge ahead. Having two wings was the choice of the builders because they had caught wind of the romantic nature of the French escadrilles of the Great War—as the books about the World War I called the squadrons. They quickly worked out that having two wings made a big difference in the amount of lift produced. In a salute to the escadrilles, someone had painted a stork on the side of the fuselage just behind the cockpit. Appropriately, the new plane was called la Cigogne—the Stork.

Finally, the aero machine reached the top of the ramp, pulled along steadily by the ox team. Quickly, the six men on the ground crew maneuvered it to the ramp and put the nose into the launch sling. Like they did with the gliders, the sling would pull the aero machine down the ramp, accelerating it to flying speed. It was always an exciting start.

Jacques walked briskly around the biplane as the ground crew waited for him in silence. Nearby a small group of the designers who had walked up the hill were huddled together. They eyed him suspiciously. He paid them no heed; they would have to trust his abilities as a pilot, just as he had to trust their abilities as designers. It was an unfair bargain—while they trusted him with their creation, he trusted them with his life. Silently, he vowed that he would bring their aero machine back to the ground safely.

One of them, Vincent Sauvage, the head designer on the project, called over to him, “Don’t get fancy, Jacques.”

Jacques shrugged and smiled. Words were unnecessary. Whatever could be done was done from their side. It was time to fly.

If things didn’t work out, then after the crash, the designers seemed to always blame the pilots first, all the more if the poor man had died. Only later, when they identified the real cause would the designers and engineers quietly go about making the adjustments and improvements to ensure that it didn’t happen again. Never was an apology offered, and none would have been accepted on behalf of the dead anyway, but everyone knew the real story of what was going on.

Resting both his hands on the top of the fuselage, Jacques spread his feet. He put his head down intending to make a prayer, but the tension of the linen stretched over the frame caught him short. The feeling was good—very good. Instead of praying, he focused on the stitching; it was excellent. No expense was spared.

Vincent seemed unsatisfied with his silence and walked over. Once close by, he said in a quieter voice, “Just get it up and then get it back down. Treat it like one of the gliders, just like you did in the wind tunnel. The motor running on the nose won’t affect the way it flies, except that you will have more acceleration, and you should fly longer.”

Jacques nodded. He took a breath and climbed up and into the cockpit. Words weren’t necessary now. This time, Vincent took the silence as an affirmation. He had his answer or the closest thing he would get to one.

As Jacques sat in the cockpit, he recognized that the biplane had a character about it that was different. It was sleek, not boxy or jury-rigged like some of the gliders and monoplanes that he had flown. This one was more carefully built, despite the rush with which it had been constructed. He breathed in the smell of her—aero machines were “her” because that was what was in the literature. He felt somehow that la Cigogne would not fail him. His main task was to be sure that he did not fail her.

In a final gesture, he crossed himself, blew into his hand, quietly whispered to himself the prayer he had read in one of the aviation books in Grantville—”God, don’t let me fuck up.”

He strapped himself into the wicker seat and felt securely nestled into the narrow fuselage. The aeroplane smelled like fresh linen and newly-cut wood. Behind that scent was a darker, almost acidic smell coming from the rotary motor. He recognized the rare and sweet scent of gasoline and oil. La Cigogne was a serious machine meant for flight, not display. This was not a machine built for brief “hops” as one took from the glider ramp. With this, he felt that he could really fly. How far would she go?

He pulled down and adjusted his goggles. Reaching under the instrument panel, he disconnected the ground wire, something he had done more than a dozen times on the test stands. This meant that the spark would be live to the cylinders of the engine. He nodded and twirled his finger in a gesture he had read about in the books—start her up.

Bernard, one of the ground crew, stepped forward and threw the prop with a heavy pull. The rotary engine spun easily along with the prop and caught right away. This was a good sign.

La Cigogne wants to fly,” he yelled to the chief designer.

Vincent nodded and yelled something back, but the words were drowned out by the noise of the motor. Then Vincent crossed himself as if with a prayer in response. Then a fleeting smile crossed the man’s lips.

Jacques waved everyone away so he could run up the engine, his attention entirely focused on the sound. The slightest noise might signal a flaw, some malfunction, or a bad spark plug.

With the engine spinning under power, Jacques played with the spark advance and the gas supply for a moment, hoping to warm it up without starting to foul the spark plugs. The engine didn’t have a throttle but rather depended on the spark advance, which he could ground or disconnect, blipping the engine to life or letting it spin. The rotary engine was a marvel, a design that had the whole engine and propeller spinning together while the central crankshaft was bolted, unmoving, to the firewall directly in front of the cockpit.

The petrol and oil fed into the engine by gravity from overhead tanks, a small one for the oil and a larger one for the petrol. Valves gave him control at the twist of a pair of knobs. The spark advance could give power as needed—on or off. If left on, the engine ran full out, if off, it spun freely without ignition. It was all or nothing. Whether it was running or not, the fuel and the oil steadily fed into the cylinders. Thus, if you left it off and spinning for too long, the petrol would spew backward out of the exhaust ports and, if the engine backfired, it might ignite. This was a known risk and one that was easily solved, just leave the engine on at full power and, as soon as you went to land, be sure to also shut off the fuel valve.

There wasn’t much power anyway, Jacques reasoned, so it probably didn’t matter whether it ran at full power or not.

The fuel flow was a strange thing, however, since starving the engine of fuel didn’t give it less power unless you made it so lean that it would cut out. Rather, the engine would run faster and quickly heat up. Then it would begin to backfire. This too would throw flames out that might ignite the unburnt fuel and oil that had been spat from the rotary as it spun. More than one test bench had been set aflame exactly in that way. Similarly, too much fuel would not only cool the engine but also result in a lot of runoff and fouling of the spark plugs. The excess, unburnt fuel spattered back onto the aero machine and pilot, making for an equally dangerous situation if a fire ignited. The key challenge was for the pilot to adjust the fuel flow to the right setting, neither too hot nor too cold, without backfiring or excessive spatter.

The oil feed was easier. Jacques knew enough to just turn it on all the way. The oil would flow into the engine, and whatever excess was there would just spatter out into the airstream. If a pilot tried to save oil by dialing it back, he ran the risk of putting too little into the engine, which could result in serious problems and damage. He recognized that too much oil would also foul the spark plugs, but while he had no solution Jacques believed that the petrol caused the fouling most of the time. The engineers still debated the matter. Sadly, none of the books at Grantville addressed the issue, and they were all left to theorize as to what was actually happening when the engine stopped. Each time, all they could find was that the spark plugs had fouled, though whether from the petrol or the oil was a matter of conjecture.

Jacques moved quickly, remembering the last time an engine had clogged plugs while on the test bench. It had been left running too long. He would not make that mistake, and he hurried to prepare for the launch. Satisfied with the sound, he signaled that he was ready.

He held the spark advance switch down, keeping the ground wire disconnected. The engine had a roar to it that sounded like life itself. Then he held up one hand with his fist clenched as the signal to prepare to launch, and then he opened his hand. With that, the launch weight dropped on cue.

As with the gliders, the aero machine jerked forward on the ramp and began its race downhill. The noise, the wind, the blast of the propeller, and the smell of oil together were invigorating. He breathed deeply and steadied himself to face the risks of flight. His own talents were beyond doubt, but would the engine work? Would the airframe have some undiscovered flaw? Would the controls be properly balanced or improperly rigged? Would the center of gravity be too far off, forward or back?

Faster and faster, la Cigogne sped up down the ramp, each hop on the wooden planking steadily jarring the aero machine as it crashed its way back and forth in the ever-widening gap between the rails. A misaligned wooden board on the ramp caused the biplane to take a bone-jarring bounce, but this was something he was used to. He held firmly to the controls and when he reached the bottom of the ramp, he felt that he was fast enough to fly. The engine was a steady roar of power. The upturn violently heaved the biplane into the air and, in an instant, Jacques was surprised by the feeling on the controls. La Cigogne was still not fast enough to fly.

The biplane staggered along in the air for a few seconds. Jacques had enough experience to know what to do; he had experienced the same thing several times before in one of the heavier gliders. Calmly, he pushed the control stick forward rather than pulling it back. In doing so, he pointed the nose farther down the hill. It seemed counter-intuitive, but it was the only way to get enough speed to fly. If he pulled back, the aero machine would slow even further and, like a stricken bird, would fall out of the sky.

With the stick forward, he added speed from the rapid descent and soon felt that he could pull back on the stick to level it out. It was a close call, the plane mere inches from the top of the grassy slope that still descended toward the flat field ahead. He gently adjusted his flight with a steadily increasing pull on the stick. Despite his best efforts, the landing skid lightly touched, but still the aero machine lifted upward again. With the power from the engine and the remaining downhill slope at the base of the col, and with this bounce, he felt that he could hold it up longer.

He was gaining precious speed. He leveled off as the aero machine settled back down toward the grass. He was now over the flat part of the field, racing toward the buildings and hangar in the distance. The skid skimmed across the top of the grass but did not touch. With a start, he realized that he was accelerating from the power of the engine!

Steadily, the controls felt lighter. A few seconds later, he had enough speed to start a slow climb. The engine was working and the balance of the aero machine was doing its job. He found that he had to hold some back pressure on the control stick, a sign that the balance point was slightly too far forward—he could have guessed that given the weight of the engine—but this was something he could work with. Weirdly, the continuous pressure he had to apply, pulling back on the stick, made it feel as if he was pulling the aero machine into the air himself with his own hands. Calmly, he put both hands on the stick and held it steady.

Jacques knew from his gliding flights that even the slightest bank meant that he would lose altitude. He held tightly to the stick, making sure that the nose did not rise too high above the horizon line. If it did, he would cross into the danger zone. He didn’t understand the principles involved, but there were demons in the air, as he had learned. The worst demon was named the Stall.

The literature he had read referred to such things as the Stall, which he had learned meant that when the nose was too high, the air over the wings would break up, and the magic of lift would suddenly fail. Just what the Stall was remained a mystery, but whatever it was, it was one demon that remained invisible to the eye. These air demons must be hiding in the winds, ready to ambush an unsuspecting pilot, so Jacques reasoned. The cost of inattentiveness would be a crash.

He shook off the thought of the worst demons and pressed on, banishing superstition from his mind. The morning air felt crisp on his cheeks as it blew past his face in the slipstream of la Cigogne, giving no clue to a lurking danger. A new confidence built in him. La Cigogne was now higher, and he gently pushed the stick forward, trading the precious little altitude he had gained for yet more speed. He urged the engine on.

As he neared the grass again, he pulled back again on the control stick to climb and allow the engine to slowly carry the biplane even higher. The speed was good now—faster than the fastest gallop of a horse, faster even than a steam car. AHHH, banish that thought! He threw off the superstition yet another time. He cursed to himself. Think not of steam cars, you fool!

He could see the tops of the trees at the end of the field, a first signal that he was going to make it. He knew from his many glider flights that when you saw the tops of the trees from above, you were doing well. Many a pilot had been forced into a short landing just before the treetops had come into view. With altitude, there were many options.

He hoped his engine would continue so strongly. Even the best engines, however, would steadily accumulate sludge until the cylinders started to lose power. Just how quickly that happened depended on the ever-varying quality of the fuel mixture.

Unsure if he would continue to hold altitude enough to clear the buildings ahead, Jacques started a turn, pushing the stick to the right to bank the biplane. The rotary engine’s spin took the nose over quickly—almost too quickly—and he was forced to recover with a jerk on the control stick. This was something he had expected from his experience in ground runs, though he hadn’t thought it would be so pronounced. The spinning engine created a gyro effect, making it difficult to turn to the left but easy to turn to the right.

At this speed, based on the feeling of the stick, he had the sense that if he let go, the plane would twist down and to the right into an immediate crash that would flip it upside-down. There was no control balance, and so the new biplane had to be flown with a firm grip at all times. Do not let go of the stick, he realized, as la Cigogne has teeth after all.

He let the biplane pull around in a wide one hundred eighty-degree turn that took it onto a course parallel and back toward the col. His turn had lost altitude and was skimming along just over the highest leaves and branches. This was a most dangerous sport, but he had reversed his course and was now coming back toward the col, but off to the side, over the trees that lined the edge of the field.

He could be caught over the trees if the engine suddenly faltered. He resisted the temptation to ease the biplane toward the field, knowing that he would lose altitude and come down into the branches. Gingerly, he pulled back on the stick and started to gain more altitude.

He would have to make one more turn to land. For that, he would need yet more altitude. As he bored on straight ahead, he saw that if he didn’t start the turn, he would ram into the col head on. He wasn’t high enough yet to bank into a turn, however. Then he remembered how, at the base of the col, there was a gap in the tree line. He craned his head forward to look for it. If he timed his turn just right, he would be back over the field, still too close to the col itself to land normally, but he could set it down and make it out. The aero machine might be damaged, but it would be a flight to celebrate. Fleetingly, he thought that maybe he could bring it in to a successful landing. Critically, the gap in the trees was the only way to avoid a crash, but he had no choice but to turn once more. It was either flying directly into the face of the col or descending into the trees that were whipping past just below his landing skid—unless he could find the gap and use it well.

As the seconds ticked by, the aero machine gained altitude slightly over treetop level. With this, he knew he could make it if the engine held out. He listened intently to the sound of its roaring cylinders. His imagination filled in noises that weren’t there. Yet it ran smoothly, only oddly skipping from time to time as the spark didn’t light with the action of the cylinders. He knew the signs of a foul—one cylinder would begin to miss and then another—and it wasn’t happening yet. With every second, he knew that likelihood grew.

It seemed as if it had been the right development path, to distill petroleum fuels rather than try to purchase them, which would have brought a dependency on some outside source. However, the results were far from ideal. The fuels were not clean-burning nor reliably distilled. Despite their best efforts, a residue always built up and fouled the spark plugs, often in short order. With no spark, there was no explosion in the cylinders and thus, no power.

He reached the end of the trees at the base of the hill. With a deft flip to the side and a slight tug, he leaned the control stick to cut a final turn back over the field, this time more expertly using the engine’s gyro effect to pull the aero machine around. Once again, the spinning rotary engine did its job. Still, the gyroscopic effect pulled the bank into a more acute angle than he had planned and the machine lost most of its remaining altitude. The spinning cylinders had pulled the protesting biplane all the way around a full 90 degrees—a proper turn! He had done it! He leveled the wings, just inches above the ground, running parallel to the base of the col. The flight was going perfectly, against all odds.

The field ahead was clear and the launch ramp, which ended just above the base of the col, would not hinder his flight. Only a landing stood between him and a major celebration ahead. He reached up and shut off the fuel flow and then set it down. It had been a perfect flight after all, he thought.

Then he saw it.

The steam car, the one that earlier he told the crew to move, was finally being repositioned away from the base of the launch ramp. In his rush to launch he had forgotten about it. Paying no heed to the flight, the steam engineers had arrived and had started it up to move it back to their hangars. The timing was terrible.

The little steam car bounced its way down the col until it was nearly directly ahead, then weirdly, it turned to drive directly toward him. It seemed that the driver was looking down at the temperature and pressure gauges on the dashboard, rather than ahead across what should have been an empty field—empty except for one aero machine.

Jacques considered whether he could attempt a quick landing before he reached the steam car. He quickly discarded the idea. He was still too fast. If he attempted that, he would certainly crash. As low as he was, if he attempted a turn, he would catch a wing and cartwheel the aero machine across the field. There were no other options—he would have to fly over it. However, la Cigogne didn’t seem to want to climb anymore. He had to get enough altitude to fly over it—so he would descend the last few feet to gain speed, and then pitch up sharply at the last instant. Maybe, if he did it just right, he could clear the steam car’s smokestack and push the nose over to land immediately beyond.

Almost as if in response to some whispered curse from the approaching steam car, his rotary motor issued a loud bang. A puff of black smoke followed, then a wisp of white. He was almost to the steam car—probably within earshot of the damn language these machines seemed to speak to one another!

He felt his power drop off even as he was hauling back on the control stick to arc the nose upward. He reached for the fuel valve and gave it a hard twist to increase the fuel flow. He hoped to cool the spark plugs with the richer mixture—that might just keep the engine running long enough.

It was exactly the wrong thing to have done.

A leaner mixture of fuel and air would have been better. For those precious seconds, the engine would have run hotter and burned off the sludge accumulating on the spark plugs before giving up the ghost for good.

Nonetheless, for a half second, the richer mixture did have a positive effect, as the added oil caused his engine to smooth out, though the extra fuel began to spray out from the spinning cylinders onto the aero machine and into the air in all directions.

There was more to the engine problem than just the fouled spark plugs—something in the crankcase had started to break and come apart. With the pressures of five cylinders ramming it around and the weight of the rotary engine itself as a flywheel of sorts, the stresses on the iron were beyond the skills of the blacksmith.

Merde, he cursed.

Would the engine hold long enough to get over the car? Responding to his pull on the stick and by momentum alone, the aero machine lifted skyward to crest over the steam car, the lower wing taking off the smokestack near the top. Without its full engine power, Jacques felt that la Cigogne was no longer as light and graceful in his hands as it had been. A new vibration suddenly shook the whole machine. Jacques knew the signs. One of the engine’s five cylinders had completely fouled and missed on each stroke.

His rudder pedals felt suddenly mushy and loose under his feet. The nose of the aero machine was pointed too high, and la Cigogne seemed to be hanging there, pointing to the skies high above. He had the feeling of balancing the plane on a knife edge. He could feel his wing stalling and knew that he would soon be heading downward. The stick began to shake in his hand. The Demon of the Stall had arrived.

Suddenly, the nose skewed to the right even if la Cigogne stayed pointed skyward. Would the machine flip over to the right? No, Jacques reasoned, he didn’t have the height for that. As it was, he had just barely cleared the steam car. He rammed the stick forward as the steam car flashed the rest of the way underneath. La Cigogne clambered for its final few feet of altitude.

He had seen a glider once suffer a Stall Demon with the nose high and then fall off on a wing into an upside-down spin. There was no surviving that.

What was supposed to have been a brief flight straight ahead, shutting down and landing, had turned into him pressing his luck. He had made a unthinking mistake, seduced by the feeling of flight that la Cigogne had given him. In his mind’s eye, he knew that he could have simply cut power and landed soon after take off, before making his first turn. He hadn’t even thought of it, so consumed was he by the feeling that the aero machine had given him as it skimmed along and climbed under its own power.

That feeing had been something new and different, to accelerate and climb, rather than settle as he slowed and descended as always was the case in a glider. When the engine had produced enough power to fly, he had simply gone with it. Then, he had had to turn to stay over the field, but that had carried him over the trees instead. Step by step, he had signed his own crash certificate by making decisions, unthinkingly and without even a tiny shred of reflection.

One thing had led to another, and suddenly Jacques realized that he would be lucky just to survive.

****

 

The Crash

 

The driver saw him just then. Jacques caught a glimpse of the startled look as his face turned up from the dashboard at his aero machine as he passed overhead.

He cleared the top of the man’s head by mere inches. The falling smokestack from the steam car, however, did not. It crashed directly on top of the driver.

Jacques didn’t have time to look back at the damage done. He let the stick edge forward slightly, hoping to avoid the Stall. If he could bring the nose down, then even trading a few feet for speed would give him advantage enough to land.

His attempt at control, however, seemed to be an empty hope. The nose of the aero machine was still pointed upward too steeply. Without enough forward speed, the controls gave little effect to the direction la Cigogne seemed to have chosen for itself. All Jacques could see forward was the blue of the sky. The aero machine seemed to be hanging in the air, almost as if stopped in place.

Despite having pushed the stick forward, the nose didn’t fall at all. The aero machine simply hung there pointed upward as Jacques struggled with the rudder pedals, mashing them side to side to keep it from rolling off on its wing. Incredibly, he held it there almost motionless, the nose pointed upward and the tail hanging off the ground.

For an instant, Jacques thought that he could just let it slide backward into the ground to a safe landing. His hopes, however, were dashed when one of the exhaust pipes on the engine tore away. A sharp explosion belched fire from within the engine itself out the left side of the aero machine. A cloud of white smoke kicked from the open ports as the cylinder rings burned out—the sweep of the propeller drove it backward and past him so he could still see, but to all those watching, it seemed as if la Cigogne suddenly was hidden in a cloud of white smoke.

The aero machine’s forward speed was completely exhausted. The engine seemed to claw at the air with the last gasp of remaining power. The spinning of the rotary engine had enough momentum to keep the propeller turning, but it also meant that the gyroscopic effect took hold and the machine twisted hard to the right, flipping sideways. Jacques rammed the left rudder pedal to the bottom of the cockpit, nearly breaking it off its post. It had no effect. What felt like minutes to Jacques of hanging in the air had been mere seconds.

The nose pulled down and to the right. Despite throwing the control stick all the way to the left, he couldn’t stop the aero machine from twisting its way down. With no airspeed, the ailerons were useless. With a sickening shriek, the engine seized just as the nose dropped suddenly toward the ground.

Jacques’ final scream—”Merde!“—could be heard in the instant between when the engine stopped and the aero machine crashed to earth. As Jacques had predicted, the spinning rotary engine pulled the aero machine onto its side and attempted to flip the plane into the ground. With more altitude, he would have hit upside-down. From this height, mere meters off the grass, the aero machine only managed to twist sideways into a ninety-degree bank before hitting the ground.

The propeller and engine hit first, flinging the tail sideways over the top. Strapped in tightly, Jacques, who might have benefitted from being thrown clear, was instead tossed like a rag doll in the seat. His face smashed into the front lining of the cockpit rail, knocking him unconscious.

Both right wings tore off, bending backward against the cables and spars between the wings.

The fuselage ripped into two parts, severing the engine off at the firewall.

Luckily, the hot engine and propeller had impacted into the dirt of the field and stuck fast. The rest of the fuselage cartwheeled past and came to rest on its side, the left pair of wings still attached. The rest of the fuselage, on its side, slid forward across the grass with what little momentum it had generated from being flipped sideways into the ground. The fuel and oil tanks atop the center part of the wing were torn partly free, and the piping sprayed the remaining precious fuel out onto the grass. There wasn’t much, thankfully, as the aero machine had only had enough fuel on board for a few minutes of run-up and flight and most of that had been used up.

Finally, the remains of la Cigogne skidded to a stop in a shower of dirt, grass, and small rocks.

****

 

Aftermath

 

The smell of fuel brought Jacques back to consciousness. Where was he? For precious seconds, he couldn’t remember what he was doing. Then he recognized a part of the broken upper wing and the wooden struts in front of the cockpit. He was in the new biplane. He glanced around. He had crashed. He was jammed in the cockpit, held fast by the seat belt. The smell of fuel was overpowering.

He had to get out; if the spreading petrol vapors got as far as the hot engine, the gasoline could catch fire. The side of his head hurt. He could hear the sound of the steam car nearby, rapidly approaching, though not at a high pitch. He reached down into his right boot and pulled out a knife, one of the few things that he always brought along when he flew.

With a quick cut, he slit the seat belt harness. He was free. He tried to pull himself up and out with his left hand but couldn’t move it. He dropped the knife and dragged himself clear with his right arm, pulling his body out of the fuselage. He grabbed at the dirt and pulled himself steadily away from the wreck, one fistful of dirt at a time.

He could hear the clanging of the airfield’s six-horse fire wagon running hell for leather across the grass from the hangar toward him. The steam car hurtled past and started to drive up the col. Smoke belched from its boiler, the stack having been torn away. The driver was missing from the seat, perhaps knocked out of the car when the smokestack had come down.

Meter by meter, Jacques dragged and pulled himself away from the wreck.

Then the wreckage ignited. To protect himself, Jacques covered his face with his right arm. It was good enough. His leather flying suit blocked much of the heat. With the flames so close by, he continued scrabbling along, now in a panic. La Cigogne was no more—all that effort, all that research, all of the hours spent building it, were lost. And what had they learned from the effort? Almost nothing, he realized, except . . .

As the fire wagon pulled up to the flaming wreck, it was clear that there was no saving the biplane. Yet Jacques was there, and the crew ran to him.

He kicked himself mentally. How could he have messed it up so badly? Merde, merde, merde, MERDE!

There was no use replaying the events, but he knew he would do it a hundred times before nightfall. Ultimately, what could he have done differently? It seemed comical to even think of it. He suddenly felt like an idiot. He was the best of the pilots and he would likely be grounded, maybe even permanently.

Merde, merde, merde . . .

He pulled himself up to a sitting position and felt that his left arm had gone numb and limp. Was it broken? He felt at it. There were no sharp pains. No broken bones. The pains were all dull. Was it just the shock from the impact that had left it temporarily numb? Could he already feel it recovering?

Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, the fire wagon team’s medical officer was beside him, checking him over for injuries. Jacques waved him away and tried to stand. It was no good —he lost his balance and settled back to the ground. He would have to take his time, but at least he would avoid the surgeons, with all that that might entail. Surgeons were dangerous. At least the medical officer was decent enough to offer him a skin of water, which Jacques gratefully accepted.

As he calmed himself, one of the fire crew unharnessed the lead horse and rode back toward the hangar. No doubt the man would be summoning a recovery crew to pull the engine from the flaming wreck to hopefully save it. He didn’t have the heart to tell them that the engine was already destroyed, a casualty of its own operation. Already the fires were burning lower. Most of the remaining fuel and much of the wood and fabric were gone. They would probably let it burn out. Nothing was recoverable, anyway.

He resigned himself to trust his body to the fire wagon crew. They picked him up and loaded him onto the back of the wagon. At least he wouldn’t be taken in on the back of the steam car, he mused, as he remembered the look on the driver’s face just before he cleared it. As he glanced around, he realized that beside him, unmoving, was the body of the steam car’s driver with a badly burned face, and a split in his skull was leaking cooked brains from the impact of the smokestack.

Over the sound of the horses, he heard the voice of one of the designers saying from atop the hill, “He was landing it, perfectly, but the steam car rammed him—I saw it myself!”

Then he was on the way, his numb body atop the fire wagon as the five remaining horses pulled steadily back to the hangar. It had been a bad day, on balance, and it seemed hard to think that anything else could yet happen. The steam car driver had had the worst of it, though Jacques felt it hard to feel bad for the man, even if the man had died for his sins. What kind of idiot drives without looking where he was going?

He knew that his many mistakes had somehow been missed by those who had watched. They were blaming his crash all on the steam car. Those who had watched the flight knew, as he did too, that if not for the steam car, he would have landed it perfectly right at the base of the col.

He couldn’t help but smile. He remembered something else he had read in the books at Grantville: Any landing you could walk away from was a good landing. He knew, too, that les filles would be waiting to nurse him back to health.

****

 

That Evening

 

The party that night was loud and rowdy and lasted until dawn. He had flown and lived to walk away. No pink paint and wings stencil would be needed, at least not yet.

The commandant had come to the tavern to give a speech, in which he stated that from this point forward, all steam cars would be banished forever from the flying fields. Further, he vowed to go to Paris and demand they move the steam car research to another station. “This,” he had said with great solemnity, “is the final straw!”

Jacques let the steam cars take the blame for the accident, though he knew in his heart that he shared much of it. He consoled himself in knowing that, as he expected, les filles were indeed very happy to see him again. They were making their feelings very clear and just as dawn broke, two of them—Claire and Martine together—volunteered to help him upstairs to get to bed.

At least he remembered both their names. . . .

The next day, Jacque woke with a splitting headache and a groan. Claire snuggled into his right side with her head pillowed on his shoulder and arm. He sought to brush the hair from her face to kiss her awake. He tried to move his left arm, and it brought a loud yelp of sharp pain. It remained numb and painful.

“I was right!” Claire said. “You are hurt. We must take you to the surgeon.”

“Nonsense,” Jacques told the pouting face just inches from his own.

Martine looked up from the shared pillow to his left and lifted the covers. “Your arm is badly bruised and swollen. Claire is right. You must see the surgeon.”

“But . . .”

“No buts, lover boy.” Martine cut off his protest. “We will feed you breakfast, but after that, you are going to the infirmary.”

After a short meal, Jacques was hustled over for some overdue medical care. The surgeon took one look at his left arm and nodded. “Lift it over your head for me, please.”

Jacque tried and yelped. Then he gritted his teeth and slowly tried again. When his elbow was shoulder high tears streamed down his face, and the doctor said, “Enough. Let us put the arm in a sling and look at it again in a month. I suspect it could be three months before you have full use of it again.”

The commandant’s response to the news that his best pilot was grounded was to send one of his better researchers back to Grantville to make proper use of his down time. He would need a nurse, so Claire was assigned to travel with him.

****

 

A Return to Grantville

 

Odette Moillon chatted with Claire in the large upstairs private dining room at the Thuringen Gardens, the third Thursday of the month being the date set aside for French Night. The Gardens did a solid business in dinners and drinks to the various expatriate groups that accumulated in Grantville. It helped to fill the private dining rooms on weekdays. People came to use their mother tongue, talk about home, and network problems and needs.

“So, what brings you and your husband to Grantville?” Odette asked one of the questions most frequently asked of new arrivals. The two women could pass for cousins or even sisters. Both were petite brunettes with high cheekbones and straight noses.

Claire hid a smile. They were traveling under the masquerade of being married. They both were getting their contracted salaries and an allowance for travel.

“We came to see what the doctors here made of Jacques’ problem with his left arm.”

“Oh, I would have guessed that you were here to gather information for a business party back home. The government spies are always single men. They never come in mixed pairs.”

“We are not government spies,” Claire answered sharply.

“Well, if you aren’t, then don’t give any reason for being here other than import-export or research because with any other reason people will assume you are spies. Come to think of it, don’t give any other reason even if you are spies. Well, you can claim you’re fleeing persecution or legal problems, but you’re attending the Calvinist church, so it isn’t persecution, at least not yet. And hiding out isn’t something one admits to.”

“Are there a lot of spies?” Claire asked.

“At least three different French groups right now. Richelieu’s people are still here for now, though we are all wondering how much longer their funding will last. The new king has people here. And then the third group might be spies or might just be thieves; we’re not sure. So far the police haven’t been able to nail them, as the locals put it. But whether they are spies or just thieves, everyone is sure they’re involved in mischief. They just can’t prove it. But none of them come around for French Night. They try to act like they’re invisible, but everybody knows who they are.”

“We’re here to find out some mechanical information and buy some supplies for my husband’s employer. But we thought we should be quiet about that.”

“Oh, there’s no need for that, Claire. They encourage foreign researchers.”

“What brought your family here?”

“We came to Germany on an annual buying trip for paintings. For years we bought good quality paintings in Germany for next to nothing and stocked a gallery in Paris to supplement what the family painted. But because of Grantville, the prices have shot up through the roof, and instead, we’ve started importing cheap paintings from Paris to sell here. We’re sending home flip books and a sparkling white wine that is selling very well back home. And then my sister Louysa is selling everything she paints in the oldest of the local galleries, and so far, they have been hanging what we import on consignment. My husband Pierre is studying photography. What sort of thing will you be buying for your husband’s business?”

“Spark plugs,” Claire replied without thinking.

“So, someone back home is working on gasoline engines?”

Claire blanched, realizing that she had just given away something important.

“If he’s buying spark plugs there isn’t really anything else to do with them. But the good news is no one cares. He can buy them new at the hardware store now since someone started a shop making them. Are you doing research, too?”

“No, I don’t read,” Clair replied, thankful that the subject had changed.

“What are you doing with your days while he’s in the library?”

Claire sighed. “Not much. That’s why I’m here. I spend a lot of my time at the market in the park talking to vendors to work on the English that I’m still learning.”

“Well if you can talk to the vendors, you can wait tables. You need to talk to Melle. Maybe she can help you get a job where she works.” Odette turned and called out to a red-headed lass, “Melle! Hey, Melle! Come here and meet Claire.”

****

 

At the Library

 

One morning someone dropped a book on the table where Jacques was reading. Jacques looked up. A short, dark-haired Italian met his gaze and said in passable French. “I’m finished taking notes. You need to look at the section with the book marker. It’s got some good details on planes with the engine behind the pilot. That helps with the balance if you’re using a heavier underpowered motor. You don’t have all that weight in the nose.”

Jacques turned pale.

“What? You didn’t think anybody was noticing which books you were working your way through or that you were here once before a couple of years ago?” the man continued calmly, his eyes flashing a slight inquisitiveness that Jacques felt was none too welcome.

Jacques said quietly, “I was hoping no one noticed.”

“Oh, you’ve been noticed alright. Trust me. You’re French, so they’re keeping an eye on you to make sure all you are doing is research.”

“What else would I be doing?”

“You might be part of the group that is shipping stolen property, back to France.”

“Someone’s doing that?”

Oui, at least until they can prove it.” The Italian extended his hand. “Guido Rossi.”

Jacques stood and shook hands.

“I think,” Guido said, “you will find the article about turning the motor around to push from behind instead of pulling from the nose interesting. I ask nothing in return for my help, really, except that if you turn up anything you think is new or interesting, I would appreciate it if you called on me.”

****

 

The Grantville Police Station

 

“How’s that new Frenchman shaping up?” the young detective asked.

“So far he looks clean,” replied the older of the two, though the older man was a police sergeant and technically junior. “He brought his wife along, so he doesn’t fit the profile, and he spends all day every day in the library. He did get drunk one night, and the two of them snuck out to the airfield where he added a name to the list of dead pilots. But other than that, he seems legit. Everything he has had sent back to France are just things that he has bought and paid for. He used the regular commercial mail. As a matter of fact, he’s spending so much time in the library, I feel sorry for his wife.”

“Don’t worry about that,” commented the young detective, “I made sure someone mentioned French Night to her. I’m waiting to hear back. If she comes, we’ll find out more.”

****

WWJD Is The Wrong Question

Early June, 1637, Grantville

 

Mouthful of dirt, seasoned with blood.

“Owwwwww . . .” Alyse Glazer blinked, trying to remember the last time she’d fallen off a horse. The horse in question stumbled, dodging something Alyse couldn’t see, and grazed a steel-shod hoof along Alyse’s ribs. The bay filly kept going, but Alyse lost her breath again. Shoving against the fairgrounds livestock arena’s hoof-chewed ground to stand up sent what felt like hot irons through Alyse’s ribs; pain flowed up so fast and hard it felt like lightning torching open a South Texas summer thunderstorm.

Sobrina mia querida,” Uncle Matteo’s voice, as warm a lilt in Tex-Mex Spanish as it had been the day she turned thirteen and fell off the first horse he’d given her a leg up on, murmured in her memory. “Coger el caballo  . . . catch the horse, volver a la montura . . . get back in the saddle. Otherwise the horse will know you can be thrown, and you’ll be afraid he’ll do it again. Don’t let him get the better of you.”

One more time, she pushed against the ground to rise, failing. Alyse slid down, breathing out, right shoulder just not working. “Ayudame, por favor.

If the apprentice couriers heard her raspy almost-whisper, they didn’t appear to understand the words. Hurt, though . . . that, they could savvy clearly enough. Well, here and now how easy a fall off a horse could cripple or even kill a rider wouldn’t be exotic knowledge, Alyse thought. But she’d fallen in front of a baker’s dozen folks supposed to learn what Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño called working miracles with horses. Yesterday she and Rafael de Treviño had taken turns giving standard demonstrations without incident, showing their new apprentices tricks of the trade. Today she’d been supposed to demonstrate brush-country cattle-working skills. But now . . . the teacher couldn’t even stand back up after falling off a horse. That rankled more: she’d fallen, not been thrown. The blaze-faced bay hadn’t bucked. The filly hadn’t even shied.

Una ambulancia,” she tried again. Puzzled faces stared at her. Half the class clustered around, offering to lift her to her feet. “¡Traiga Luis, por favor—andale!

The smallest, blondest boy in class looked dawned-on, turned, and sprinted toward the fairgrounds office. At least he knew who to look for and where to start, she thought. Bueno.

“See what spoiling animals gets you!” a voice said somewhere behind her. Gerhard Rutger, always arguing how much better brute force worked. The stocky twenty-something with the half-sneer habitually fixed on his bearded face added, “Teacher.”

He said it like that wanna-be tough guy’d said “Bitch,” a universe ago, right after Alyse’s Appaloosa fell over the rope he’d jerked across a warm-up alley before the barrel-race quarter-finals her junior year. Once Alyse knew for sure that Sport hadn’t been hurt in the fall, she’d come unwound. She’d just kept planting the hijo de puta back down face-first into the dirt and muck in the pen-alley until he ran out of get-back-up that day. Well before that, his friends had quit calling her, or the spotted horse she’d ridden, names.

“You need to do that again,” Tio Matteo’s ghostly presence suggested from somewhere in her memory, “with this chotacabras, Rutger.”

But she couldn’t. For one thing, she wasn’t seventeen any more. That fight had cost her a much-coveted rodeo scholarship when the one hundred fifty dollar fine kept her from entering any events in the last half of the semester. Alyse never had considered that price too high for keeping stupid adolescent boys from putting Sport in danger, though.

For another thing, her uncle Matteo didn’t live in this universe, even all the way around the world in South Texas. Alyse missed that life more every day, stuck in the middle of the Thirty Years War, trying to keep a roof overhead and food on the table. Sometimes, she felt more like she managed her successes in spite of, rather than with help from, the husband whose new job in West Virginia had brought them to Grantville the summer before the Ring fell.

Matteo’s presence faded as her breathing came back to normal. Alyse pushed against the ground again, intending to scramble to her feet, and pain whited out her mind. She gave up trying to stand up.

“I told you—’ Rutger started to sneer.

Cállate!” That hadn’t been the right thing to say. Here and now a woman had to speak German, or some dialect of it, to be understood. Nobody spoke the quick-liquid border Spanish she’d grown up with or wanted to bother learning it. Alyse felt exactly the same way about Early Modern German; she heard nothing but its misbegotten flavors every day, here and now. Biting off a yelp, she pushed her other elbow into the dirt. Her ribs hurt like fire. Her shoulder . . . just didn’t work.

“Teacher,” Rutger repeated, his voice almost gloating. “These horses are spoiled. They need beating to break their bad habits!”

Alyse froze. If he mistreated the badly frightened filly she’d fallen off of now . . .”No!”

Sturdy youngsters coalesced around their fractious classmate. Another voice—one she’d known for just over a year now—sliced through the chatter, in proper Catalan. “¿Qué ha pasado? What’s happened?”

Me caí de la caballa,” Alyse answered in raspy Tex-Mex. “I fell off.”

¿Se cayo porque?” Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño—her not-so-silent partner in the courier service business—pelted from the office, vaulting the rail fence.

“What made you fall?” Right behind him, nearly under tow by the blond boy, came Luis Ybarra.

Rafael de Treviño stopped two strides away, swept down to lift something, and one-handed her heavy stock saddle, raising it to eye-level. “¡La cincha saltó y Alyse Glazer cayó de la caballa!

That explained how the horse’s quick half-spin separated Alyse, along with the saddle, from its back. Her head and body hurt so much, Alyse could hardly think. Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño, however, had no such impediments. “¿Por qué rompió? Está dañado. Alguien lo cortó.”

“Señor Rafael de Treviño says,” a voice sang out in Amideutsch, “Miz Glaser fell because her saddle is damaged. Someone cut her cinch.” Now Luis knelt at Alyse’s shoulder, cradling her head against his knee with what remained of his right arm. “Aly—Miz Glazer, are you hurt?”

Alyse licked her lips—a mistake, as the salty taste of bloody cow-pen dirt filled her mouth all over again—and tried to answer. All her words still came in Spanish. “I think I broke my collarbone, and the filly busted my ribs when I couldn’t get out of the way.”

“Can you tell me in English?” Luis hovered, eyebrows drawn together into one heavy line straight above a bright-liquid dark-hazel eye, faintly-freckled nose and a fist-sized black eye patch.

“No.” Alyse gave up all pretense. “I can’t remember the words . . . ”

“All right. I heard you.”

He spoke Tex-Mex as easily as Amideutsch, or English, for that matter. Alyse had come to love Luis like the baby brother she’d never had in the three years since he’d turned up in the hospital, a Wartburg survivor with no more notion of how to go home than money to get there on, still recovering from having lost his eye and hand and half his forearm to napalm. He’d only remembered having one name: Luis. He wanted to make prosthetics for his fellow survivors, so he taught himself to read English and German and started on Latin. Without him her houseful of very young children probably would have starved, because they’d have tied her too closely to hearth and crib for her to work. Without what she’d earned and bartered, she could not have kept them fed and housed and clothed during the years her husband served in the war or, after that, a fledgling government far from Grantville. Without Luis, she knew, none of this could have been possible.

“Now tell me,” he said, “where you hurt.”

Alyse sucked back breath. “All over,” she answered in Spanish. “Call an ambulance? Please?”

Black-haired Luis Ybarra straightened, gathering the apprentices via gimlet gaze. “Bobby, go back to the office. Dial nine-one-one. Tell the operator we need an ambulance and police at the fairgrounds in the working pens. Run!”

Roberto “Bobby” Cardonez—the same small blond boy—didn’t wait to nod; he leapt from where he’d been crouched at Alyse’s knees and landed sprinting. “Yes, Luis!”

Alyse caught her boarder’s sleeve. “Listen, Luis—this isn’t that filly’s fault. I don’t know how, and I can’t prove anything, but I’m sure Rutger’s to blame.”

“Don’t let it worry you,” Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño nodded brusquely. “Luis, we’ll handle this. Just take care of our Alyse.” Rafael de Treviño had a muscular wiriness, like Luis, and a face full of fury. He had, also like Luis, a deep abiding affection for Alyse—not the love he felt for his wife or daughters, but respect, and a strong sense of kinship born of long hard hours’ work together. “We have all the time in the world to see justice finds this criminal—and we’ll see it. I swear on my oath as Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño.”

Luis shook his head, turning to the apprentices. He added in rapid-fire Amideutsch, “Don’t let Rutger fool you, boys. He’s not to be trusted.”

Rafael de Treviño switched to Amideutsch too. “Leave that horse alone, Augustus! Give her room to calm down. You and Odell . . .” He addressed the biggest two apprentices after Rutger. “. . . hold your classmate, there. He must not handle that horse or this saddle, and he must not leave. Understand?”

“I told you . . . ” Rutger began blusteringly.

“No,” Alyse interrupted clearly, “No me dices. No eres jefe aquí!

Luis growled, staring over Alyse’s head toward the damaged saddle. Meanwhile, Alyse’s partner led the circle closing in on Rutger. He backed away, step after step, until the rails of the pens stopped him. The circle tightened.

Alyse swallowed tears of relief, holding still as she could manage. A wail of sirens and a thunder of diesels arrived: Grantville’s Fire Department had sent an ambulance. A quarter-mile or so behind came the police.

****

 

Six weeks later

 

“You’re kidding,” Powell Glazer said. “First you disobey me, then expect me not just to pay your hospital bills but to give my blessing to a harebrained vigilante search? You can’t even prove the horses were stolen, let alone who took them!”

“I’m not. The only other person who saw what happened this morning is Luis,” Alyse answered. “I’m a partner in the school, in the business. The horses are as much mine as the hospital bills. My responsibility—you told me that yourself.”

“Call the police,” Powell snapped, “It’s their job.”

“I could,” she lifted her eyes. “But the law’s got more chores than it’s got hands to work on already.”

“You’ve nearly been killed for this foolish notion that a woman can do a man’s work,” Powell went on, face growing redder as his anger built. “This isn’t Texas. We’re not in 2000. Your responsibilities are right there in our house, with the children.”

“Doc Adams says I’m as good as I ever was,” Alyse nearly spat back. “Cracked my collarbone, and hit my head, and took a couple days before I got a good hold of everyday lingo back. Doesn’t change what needs doing or who’s handy for doing it, Powell.”

“You have small children—” His voice broke.

“The kids are used to Luis looking after them while I’m working,” she said, utterly unfazed. “If anything comes up Luis can’t handle, he can call Claudette . . . if you don’t want to be bothered.”

Pastor’s wife Claudette Green looked uneasy. Alyse knew husbands and wives usually asked Al Green to counsel them, but Alyse had developed a trust in Claudette during Powell’s long absences.

In a gentle voice, Claudette intervened from a spiritual angle. “The question’s not just about the horses. It’s not even about whose job it should be to find them and get them back. The question’s what example you’re setting. Ask yourself, Alyse: What would Jesus do?”

Alyse stood, straight-backed, shoulders set, eyes ablaze. “Back home,” she said in a very quiet voice, “I could give you chapter and verse. But here and now, there’s a better question.”

Claudette raised her eyebrows. “What question?”

“What would Adam Cartwright do?”

Powell said hotly, “A character in a television show? That show wasn’t even about Texas! You can’t seriously believe a character in a TV show is a better role model than Christ.”

“Who?” Claudette asked, visibly startled by Powell’s sudden reaction.

Alyse leaned on her bootheels. “My patience has limits.”

“You’re long past mine!” Powell snapped. “Your homesick-for-Texas nonsense has no place in this world. Texas isn’t what you remember. It never will be in this universe. You can’t go back there, no matter how much you wish you could. Wishing for what you can’t have is just childish, Alyse. You’re not a child any more. You’re supposed to respect my wishes.”

Alyse set her jaw, clenched her fists against her hips, and . . . said nothing, turning her back to him. Every line of her body shouted outrage.

Claudette tried to broker peace once more. “You’re right, Powell. She is supposed to respect your wishes. But you’re supposed to respect her work, too. She’s been everything Proverbs teaches us a godly wife should be. She had to keep herself and your children out of the poorhouse somehow. This home she’s made, these friends and partnerships she’s built, are worthwhile. They’re also not yours to brush off as though they don’t matter.”

“The Bible says . . .” he started, as if to impose his manly authority on both women.

“That a husband should cherish his wife as Christ cherishes the church,” Claudette answered firmly, paraphrasing a verse Alyse had reminded her of during one of their earlier conversations.

Disbelief warred with outrage across Powell Glazer’s ordinarily very handsome face. “That the husband is the head of the house, as Christ is the head of the church,” he answered icily, several seconds later. “The woman owes him obedience.”

Alyse shrugged. “Yes, provided he behaves as a proper husband ought to.”

His blue eyes turned cold as ice. “What are you accusing me of?”

“No one’s accusing you, Powell. But what does your conscience say?”

Glazer unfolded from the chair he’d straddled backwards and took a long step toward Alyse, raising his left hand as though to deliver a slap in response to her disrespect. What took over then Alyse would never know, but she spun inside his blow and blocked it on her forearm. Claudette caught Powell’s other hand, now clenched into a fist, in both of hers.

“This is not what you want to do, Powell,” she said. “This is not how a godly man treats his wife.”

He shook the pastor’s wife off roughly, blue eyes colder still as he glared at Alyse, still standing inside his reach. “This is not how a godly wife behaves.”

Claudette reached for the telephone. Alyse planted herself between the furious man and her best friend.

“Yes, this is Claudette Green. I need the police. We’re in the Mountaintop Institute office. There’s been an assault, and it looks like there might be another one any minute.” Glazer spun on his heel and strode out, slamming the door. Claudette went on, “Powell Glazer. He went tearing out of here like his hair’s on fire. No, not like Bryant Holloway. I called so it wouldn’t get that far,” Claudette told someone over the phone.

Alyse watched, one eyebrow raised, as Claudette set the instrument back in its cradle. The pastor’s wife sighed. “Well, that’s torn it, girl.”

Alyse quirked a half-smile, then nodded. “It about has.”

“So who is Adam Cartwright?” Claudette asked.

“Oh,” Alyse said. “Didn’t you ever watch Bonanza?”

“Didn’t that show come on Sunday nights?”

Alyse righted the chair Powell had left overturned. She sat down with a nod. “But I remember it from after school, out on the ranch with Mom’s family. That was where we lived after Dad’s plane disappeared, somewhere between Vandenberg and Eielson.”

Claudette reached out toward her. “I didn’t know . . .”

“I was in fifth grade,” Alyse said. “Got pulled out of class for the principal to tell me.”

“That must have been a shock.”

“Not as much as the ranch turned out to be.” Alyse’s eyes got a faraway look, remembering. “Tio Matteo took us to town one Saturday a month, on payday. We listened to church, the cattle markets, and sometimes music on his radio. We brought our TV with us, but the stations were all a long way off, and it took awhile before we got an antenna. Once we had it up, we’d do homework listening to Big Valley or Wagon Train.”

Claudette raised her eyebrows. “So why Adam Cartwright, particularly?”

“The closest station put Bonanza on, starting from the beginning,” Alyse said. “I’d always liked Nick Barkley and Flint McCullough. But that year I noticed . . . Adam Cartwright was the best-looking man in the whole wide world.”

Claudette nodded, saying nothing.

Alyse slanted a half-embarrassed look up from under her eyebrows at her friend. “All of the cowboys on TV could ride, and fight, and shoot; but Adam . . . read, a lot. He didn’t always have to fight somebody to solve problems. He could explain things and build things. He played guitar, and he could sing like an angel, and he could ride any horse ever foaled, and I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.”

Claudette looked puzzled. “What on earth made you think that way? I mean, you weren’t a boy.”

“Girls always die at the end,” Alyse said.

Claudette shared a rueful grin with her, and then both of them looked a little sad before the pastor’s wife agreed, “I wouldn’t want to die at the end, either.”

Alyse sighed. “Always looked like guys had way more interesting things to do. So that’s what I wanted to learn. I guess havin’ my uncles think a little curly-haired girl looked cute on a man-size horse or lending a hand during the spring work spoiled me. By the time I’d outgrown lookin’ cute, I’d turned out to be a good enough barrel racer to try for a college scholarship.”

“So you lived on a working ranch, growing up.” The pastor’s wife looked thoughtful. “Who taught you to fight? I saw what you did, when Powell went to slap you. Somebody taught you that.”

“Sally McQuade was my best friend in grade school. Her dad taught us both, so the boys couldn’t beat us up on the playground. Taught us how to shoot, too, the year before we lost my Dad and had to move.” The Texan shook her head. “I’m not a competition-grade shooter like Marshal Archie Mitchell is or Sally and her dad were, but I learned on Smith and Wesson revolvers and Colt-made rifles. Your muscles remember.”

“Not mine!” Never having had to learn any such thing, Claudette rapped her knuckles on the table. “Come to think of it, that’s not all I don’t know—if you want Greta to take those weekly shipments of tamales to the farmer’s market, you’d better fix some and put in the freezer.”

“There’s six batches in the big freezer in the kitchen, and Greta knows to check with you if they run out.” Alyse rolled her shoulders and stood up as a police car pulled into the parking lot. “I put up a couple pints of pico de gallo while I was making sauce for the tamales. If you need more before I get back, Luis can show you the recipes. He makes pretty good biscuits. The hens are laying, too. All the sausage I’ve got left is venison, though.”

“We’ve got enough canned goods for a few weeks, if you’re gone that long. I’ll make sure the kids get by.”

“I appreciate this, Claudette,” the Texan said. “Honest.”

The pastor’s wife tilted her head, studying her friend. “So, what would Adam Cartwright do?”

“What’s right,” Alyse answered. “Same as I aim to. Maybe not what Jesus would. I’ll answer for that, too.” She glanced at the front door. A uniformed man’s knock vied with the ring of her bootheels as she headed out through the back. “I better get started.”

****

Nearly three weeks later, Claudette’s phone rang one late afternoon. “Just wanted to let you know I got home,” Alyse Glazer’s voice said when the pastor’s wife picked up. “I guess what’ll come next’ll be some sort of trial. Seein’ nobody died, and I got the horses he stole back, I guess they’ll try him in Judge Maurice Tito’s court.”

****

 

Mid-September, Magdeburg Courthouse

 

“And please tell the court, who are you?”

“Luis Ybarra,” he answered firmly.

“Luis Ybarra,” the questioner, a man named John Bradshaw, repeated. “Tell the court what you do and where you live, please.”

“A student at Grantville Technical and a boarder with Alyse Ballantine Glazer.” That, Luis thought, ought to cover it. Nobody needed to know who he had been, after all, before. “I work as a secretary to the Federal Express delivery company.”

“Ybarra?”

Alyse had offered him that name—her Tio Matteo’s—upon discovering he remembered but one of his own, early in his new life, while he recovered from the Wartburg, after being brought to Grantville as either a prisoner of war or a casualty; Luis hadn’t really sorted out the differences before he’d met her at the Refugee Center. She’d been introduced as someone who knew Spanish but wasn’t a soldier and not connected with the disastrous Wartburg overnight siege. For a boy rising fourteen, that night had been more than terrifying enough. What happened afterward . . . he didn’t want to fall down that rabbit-hole here and now, in a courtroom with people watching his face as he answered their questions.

“Ybarra.” He spelled it.

“Where are you from?”

“Pardon?”

“Ybarra is not a name in the Grantville records,” the questioner—a youngish fellow with a strangely lilting voice—said. “So where are you from, Sir? You must have traveled here from somewhere?”

Traveled here? In a wagon, with half-a-dozen others, survivors judged fit to spend days and nights hauled behind a . . . tractor? . . . from the still-smoking ruins of a massacre lit with Greek fire . . .  Oh, he’d traveled here, all right. Luis nodded.

“I was an escudero aprendizaje at Cadiz . . . It wasn’t home.” He looked up into the eyes of the man behind the palisaded desk above him. “The maestre de campo . . . set very high standards.”

“How old are you?”

“Seventeen,” he replied firmly. “I think.” The man asking questions looked at him, momentarily—was that expression pitying? Luis straightened just a bit in the wooden chair. “I’ve lived here four years. I graduated high school last May.”

“You are a war veteran?” The questioner asked that in a different tone.  “Were you a soldier?”

“Apprentice to a sergeant in a tercio. We were in a battle, and after the battle we retreated to a fortress on top of a cliff. We . . . were burned out of that place.  I tried to pull the man whose apprentice I was away from that fire . . . They told me he died . . .” The room held silent; a tear ran down Luis’ cheek, beneath his suddenly-glittering brown eye. “I spent some time in the hospital and a few days at the Refugee Center. Miz Glazer hired me from there.”

The man behind the palisaded desk thumped a wooden mallet on a wooden pad. “Fifteen minutes recess,” he said calmly. “Señor Ybarra, when we come back, there will be a few more questions for you. But those questions will be about the day Miz Glazer was injured. Do you think you will be able to answer those questions all right?”

“Yes.”

****

“Lord, Judge, I had no idea . . .”

“You couldn’t’ve, John,” Judge Maurice Tito affirmed solemnly. “It’s so different here—we drafted kids when I’m from, but they were at least eighteen. Here . . . what, a twelve-year-old? Or younger, maybe? And what in the name of righteousness is an apprentice escudero?”

A shrug and headshake. “He’s clearly got some serious post-traumatic stress there, and I purely did not mean to bring that up in court.”

“What’s done can’t be undone. Keep to the day Alyse Glazer got hurt, when we go back in. Do you have her deposition, by the way?”

“I do. It’s recorded in her own voice, too, though we didn’t have a camcorder, just a tape recorder, when we talked to her.”

“That’ll do, but I’ll want a transcript for the record,” Judge Tito said quietly.

“Well, I can introduce that. We made one with the tape, you know.”

“Standard practice. Okay. We’ve got seven minutes left. I’ll see you back in court.” He sighed, looking across the desk in his private office. “I wish that fool had let us get him a defense attorney.”

“Laura Koudsi was the next name on the roster, and he refused to have a woman speak for him,” the attorney answered mildly. “I understand he’s been a fairly hostile prisoner.”

“From what I heard,” His Honor responded, heading for the private restroom adjoining his judicial sanctuary, “that’s an understatement.”

****

“I was watching the children and catching up on paperwork. Bobby came in saying . . . Miz Glazer . . . had asked for me, because there’d been an accident.” Luis sat nearly as still in the witness chair as if he’d been carved out of granite. “Bobby said she was hurt.”

“Who is Bobby?”

Luis raised his left hand, indicating a small figure in the audience. “Roberto Cardonez. He is apprenticed with us.”

Bobby Cardonez stood up, nodded at Luis, and sat back down. Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño patted the boy’s shoulder from the seat beside him.

“What did he tell you, that day?”

“To come quickly, Miz Glazer needed me.”

“And you went where?”

“With him.” Luis’ voice held sadness. “I never thought to use the phone and call more help. When we got to the working pens, A—Miz Glazer had to ask for that herself.”

“She was able to speak?”

“Absolutely.”

“She sounded to you as though she were in her right mind?”

“Oh, yes. Hurt, and she spoke Spanish only, but nothing had disrupted her thinking. She—and Señor Treviño—were talking pretty clearly. Someone had damaged the cinch on her saddle.”

“What was the significance of the damaged saddle?”

Luis sent a look at Gerhard Rutger that should have melted the defendant in his seat. “Señor Treviño showed us how the cinch had been cut partway through. Alyse’s saddle is very distinctive. She uses it every day when she rides the demonstrations.”

“That’s all the questions I have for this witness.”

“Herr Rutger, have you any cross examination?”

The big blond with the ragged beard stood and spat on the floor. “No. He lies.”

Luis’ hand clenched into a fist. “I do not lie. That apprentice does not respect Miz Glazer. He fights the other students and handles horses too roughly. He is . . . a bully.”

“Your Honor,” Bradshaw said.

“Señor Ybarra,” the man behind the tall desk spoke quietly. “Thank you for your testimony. You’re free to leave the witness box.”

Luis looked up at him. “I have more to say about Rutger. We know . . .”

Rutger leapt to his feet, advancing on the witness box. “Lies! Because I do not spoil stupid animals or give in to the whims of whining children! I do not listen to a silly woman pretending she knows about men’s work! Because I am a man and I act like a man, you resent me!”

“Order in the court! Bailiff—!”

But before the bailiff could intervene Rutger had smashed a fist at Ybarra, hard enough to rock the young man back in the witness chair. Luis moved like a cat, drawing himself onto the chair seat in a crouch before kicking both feet out over the witness box rail. The heels of his Texas-style boots met Rutger’s forehead with a crack like a bat sending a ball four hundred feet over the center field fence into the stands. Instead of throwing the second punch he’d had drawn back, Rutger fell away from the kick, landing on the floor with a thud.

Luis alit outside the box, light as a cat leaping down. He looked at the much larger young man on the floor and spoke so softly the judge, the nearest person, had to strain to hear. His words were neither Italian, Spanish, French, nor Latin, as far as the judge could tell.

“I think his neck is broken, Judge,” Bradshaw said, kneeling beside Rutger on the floor. As Luis braced himself against the witness-box railing, Bradshaw went on, “It’s clearly self-defense, too. The defendant was about to hit the witness again.”

“I think you’re right.” The judge looked at the rigid-backed refugee braced at the railing. “Señor Ybarra,” he said. “We all saw what happened. This is purely self-defense. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the court thanks you for your service. You are dismissed.”

Luis looked up. “Thank you, Your Honor.”

Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño stood. “May I have a moment of the court’s attention?”

“A moment,” the judge allowed. “You have something more for this case?”

“No,” Rafael de Treviño answered. “I think it a separate matter, but Rutger often bragged he would show everyone how stupid and weak Americans are. We found the knife he used to cut the cinch, causing the fall that put Alyse in the hospital.”

“Then,” Luis said, “he ran away, stealing some of the school’s horses.”

“That’s the more you wanted to tell the jury?”

Luis nodded. Stepping up beside him with another nod, Rafael de Treviño put an arm around the younger man’s shoulders, then looked up at the judge.

“If not for Alyse . . . our business could not go on. But we cannot pay her hospital bills. Our company is new and small. The bills are ruinous.” He drew a deep breath. “This was no accident, and while Gerhard Rutger may be beyond reach now, the source of his funds is not. I know who sent him to us and paid his expenses.”

“I understand,” the lawyer called Bradshaw stated. “This court will have a suit to dissolve the Glazer marriage on the docket in a few days, as well.”

Rafael de Treviño gave a purely Spanish shrug. “That also is part of why we seek damages against Rutger’s estate. I don’t see my partner, Alyse Ballantine, able to afford the hospital bills. Once the marriage is dissolved, Mister Glazer certainly will not assist with such debts.”

“I’ll take your concerns under advisement, but I am inclined to agree with you.” The judge glanced at the two men standing, now, with their elbows on the edge of his desk’s palisade. “Costs of the injuries should be borne by the party acting to cause them. Absent direct relief, by that party’s estate.”

“Can you get copies of the information to the court, Señor Treviño?” asked the lawyer. “I’ll be happy to represent your company if you want. I think it’ll be open-and-shut liability for injuries caused.”

“Lord save us lawsuit complications, yes,” muttered the judge, then hammered the gavel onto its target. “We are adjourned.”

****

The Men From M.A.R.S.: The Martians Are Coming

March, 1636

 

The droplet formed at the bottom of the clump of snow still tenuously attached to the leaves of the bush Captain Wilhelm Finck of the USE Marines 1st Reconnaissance Company was hiding under. Slowly it grew, until it reached critical size and fell.

Wilhelm flinched as the near freezing drop of water landed on his neck and started its journey down his back. He glanced at his wristwatch. Sunrise wasn’t that far off. “Come on,” he muttered.

“What was that, Captain?” Sergeant Christoph Fels asked from the nearby bush he was hiding under.

“Nothing,” Wilhelm muttered. “I’m just getting impatient.”

“Fabricius and Dinckeler were the right choice, Captain,” Christoph said in a reassuring voice.

Wilhelm had to agree with that. Lance Corporals Johann Fabricius and Albrecht Dinckeler were the two best men he had when it came to skulking in the shadows. “I’m worried about what they might do,” he said. “I should have sent you or Corporal Müller to supervise them.”

“We agreed that any more than two men would significantly increase the risk of discovery, Captain.”

Wilhelm sighed. “But maybe those two shouldn’t have been Fabricius and Dinckeler, Sergeant.”

That was a truth so evident that Sergeant Fels didn’t bother replying.

Moments later they heard faint rustling that didn’t fit with the gentle breeze they could feel. Wilhelm gripped the lead-pellet filled flat sap he was holding tightly and prepared to use it.

“Captain?” Johann Fabricius called in a loud whisper.

Wilhelm relaxed. “Over here,” he called.

“Mission accomplished,” Albrecht “Al” Dinckeler said.

“Did anyone spot you?” Christoph asked.

“Not even a dog, Sarge,” Johann said.

“Good.” It was good because it meant Dinckeler and Fabricius hadn’t needed to use their saps on anyone. He’d been prepared to accept the consequences if they’d done so, but it was much better that they’d managed to get in and out without being discovered. “Let’s rejoin Böhm and Müller and get out of here before anyone notices what you’ve done,” Wilhelm said.

It took nearly half an hour to stealthily make their way to the Schrote where Corporals Stephan Böhm and Nikolaus “Nik” Müller were waiting with the canoes they’d used to insert themselves via the narrow and shallow waterway. The creek had been a tight fit for the two-man canoes, but that was good. Surely no one would think to check such a small waterway for escaping intruders. Once back with the canoes it took them less than twenty minutes to make their way down the Schrote to the River Elbe, where Sergeant Melchior Dietrich was waiting for them with a motor boat.

****

 

A couple of days later, USE Marine Corps HQ, Magdeburg

 

Wilhelm stepped into Colonel Friedrich von Brockenholz’ office and saluted. “Captain Finck reporting, sir.”

“Take a seat, Captain,” Friedrich said, gesturing towards a group of chairs.

Wilhelm removed his cap, selected a chair, and brought it closer to Colonel Brockenholz’ desk before sitting down. “You wanted to see me, Sir.”

Friedrich nodded. He rifled through some papers on his desk; selected one, and slid it across to Wilhelm. “A couple of nights ago a person or persons unknown sneaked into the Army camp to the northwest of Magdeburg and painted that symbol on the commander’s house. Colonel Joachim Bassewitz is most upset.” He looked pointedly at Wilhelm. “Would you happen to know anything about it?”

Wilhelm glanced at the paper. He looked up. “A Volvo symbol?” he suggested, referring to the grill symbol he’d seen on a couple of up-time automobiles.

Friedrich rolled his eyes. “There is no need to be facetious, Captain.”

“The symbol for iron?”

Friedrich shook his head. “Try again.”

“The male gender symbol?” Wilhelm said.

Friedrich nodded. “And why is that symbol used to indicate males?” he asked.

Wilhelm was trapped. There was no way he could avoid saying it now. “Because it is the symbol for the god Mars,” he said.

“There is one other rendering of the symbol that comes to mind,” Friedrich said. He looked pointedly at the Marine Advanced Reconnaissance School qualification badge on Wilhelm’s blouse. “The jig is up, Wilhelm. I know your men were responsible.”

“They’re bored,” Wilhelm said defensively.

“And to alleviate their boredom you decided to break into an army base and paint your unit symbol on the front of the commander’s house?”

Wilhelm shrugged. He hadn’t actually told Fabricius and Dinckeler where to paint the symbol, just that it should be noticeable, and that they weren’t to get caught doing it. “If their security had been any good my men wouldn’t have been able get close enough to tag Colonel Bassewitz’ quarters, Sir.”

“Yes, there is that. Which is why, even as we speak, the men detailed to guard Colonel Bassewitz’ quarters are busy whitewashing the whole building.” Friedrich paused to smile at Wilhelm. “I’m sure they’ll learn their lesson, but rumors have reached the admiral that those same guards will be marching on Magdeburg as soon as they finish, looking for retribution. As such, it has been suggested that it might be better if you were to remove your unit from Magdeburg until the dust settles.”

“We can take care of ourselves,” Wilhelm said.

“I know you can,” Friedrich said. “That’s what I’m worried about. That is why Admiral Simpson and I have graciously offered General Stearns the services of the USE Marines 1st Reconnaissance Company for the war down in Bavaria.”

Wilhelm’s eyes lit up. “They want us to scout for river crossings?” he asked, excitement entering his voice.

“Yes. You and your men might finally get to demonstrate their value. I want you to take your unit to Regensburg, where you will report to General Stearns of the 3rd Division.”

“Can we have Sergeant Dietrich and his motorboat, Sir?”

Friedrich smiled. “I assume he was a party to your recent escapade?” He shook his head slowly. “I’m sure it would be useful for you to have Sergeant Dietrich and his bass boat down in Regensburg, but I can’t authorize it. Not when I consider how much losing George Watson’s Outlaw cost the government.”

George Watson’s Outlaw motorboat had been lost in the battle of Wismar when Eddie Cantrell, Larry Wild, and Bjorn Svedberg had plowed into the Johannes Ingvardt. Neither vessel had survived when the anti-ship rockets the Outlaw had been carrying exploded on impact. The government had been forced to pay him nearly three million dollars in compensation for losing his priceless up-time-built speedboat. “We wouldn’t be using it in combat, Sir,” Wilhelm said, trying to differentiate the risk to the Bass boat from what had happened to George Watson’s Outlaw. “We’ll only be using it as a delivery and recovery vehicle.”

“I’m sure that is your intention,” Friedrich said. “However, even assuming the railways can transport the boat from Magdeburg to Bamberg without damaging anything, do you really think the teamsters will be able to carry it the hundred miles between Bamberg and Regensburg at this time of year without breaking her, possibly irreparably?”

Wilhelm winced. The colonel had him there. Teamsters were notorious for just how careless they could be with fragile goods at the best of times, and traveling between Bamberg and Regensburg in early April was not the best of times. Not only was the road not much more than an improved goat track, but firstly the SoTF National Guard, and more recently the 3rd Division, had marched over it. It was probably a sea of mud right now. “No, Sir,” he conceded.

“Right. So, unless Sergeant Dietrich and his boat can grow wings, you’ll just have to make do with your collapsible kayaks.”

“Yes, Sir,” Wilhelm muttered. The kayaks were quite good. They could be packed into two bags about five feet long and a foot square weighing about fifty pounds each, and could be assembled or disassembled in under ten minutes. However, they were limited to the speed two men could paddle them. Sergeant Dietrich’s bass boat was capable of nearly sixty miles per hour, or twenty to thirty times the speed—not that they’d tried towing the kayaks regularly at more than twenty-five miles per hour, but having Sergeant Dietrich and his bass boat would have meant rescue wasn’t far away if they ran into trouble.

“Right. Dismissed, and do the Marines proud, Captain.”

Wilhelm got to his feet, put his cap back on, and saluted Colonel Brockenholz. “We’ll do our best, Sir.”

“I know you will, Captain Finck.”

****

 

A couple of days later, Magdeburg Naval Base

 

“All right, who’s first?” Sergeant Leonhard Fechser called out from his position behind the counter of the Marine Armory.

Wilhelm got to his feet and walked over to the counter. “Finck, Wilhelm, Captain, number M14132,” he announced as he laid his ID card down on the counter.

Leonhard compared the photo on the ID card with Wilhelm. Then he checked his logbook before selecting a rifle from the rack behind him. He checked that it was unloaded, and with the action open, laid it on the counter. “One lever-action rifle, butt number two hundred thirty-two,” he called out as he wrote the number in his book. He then placed ten boxes of ammunition on the counter. “Two hundred rounds .40-72.” Again, after calling out the item he wrote it up in his book. He then turned the book around and slid it towards Wilhelm. “Please sign that you have taken possession of your rifle and an issue of ammunition.”

Wilhelm checked the weapon. It was his usual rifle, and it was in the same excellent condition as it’d been when he last returned it to the armory. He then checked the boxes of ammunition. All the spaces were full, so there were two hundred rounds. However, two hundred rounds weren’t going to go very far if they got caught up in a firefight down in Bavaria. He said as much.

Leonhard shrugged apologetically. “I’ll get a couple of reloading kits and see that they catch up with you. But I’m afraid you’re going to have to police your brass.”

Wilhelm glared at Leonhard. He knew it wasn’t the storeman’s fault, but he was fed up with the penny pinching they had to go through to keep the unit going. “We’re going into combat,” he said. “We can’t afford to waste time worrying about policing our brass.”

“I can let you have half a dozen brass catchers, sir.”

Wilhelm turned up the power of his glare. None of them liked the brass catchers. They’d used them in training and found them to be a complete pain. They got in the way when they needed to recharge the magazine, altered the balance of the rifle, and once they contained more than a couple of empty cases, they made silent movement next to impossible. He sighed. They were also the only way they were going to be able to save their brass if they got caught up in a firefight. “I’ll take them,” he said.

Leonhard laid a brass catcher on the counter. “If you’ll just sign for everything, Sir.”

Wilhelm released a pent-up breath and dutifully signed his name against each item of equipment he’d just drawn.

“Who’s next?” Leonard called as Wilhelm walked back to where he’d left his pack and webbing.

Wilhelm was distributing his ammunition in various pouches of his webbing when a Navy messenger entered. “Herr Captain Finck?” he asked the room.

“Here,” Wilhelm said.

The youth approached Wilhelm, started to salute, only to stop half-way when he realized Wilhelm wasn’t wearing a hat and thus didn’t need to be saluted. A tide of red hit his face as he stood to attention. “Orders from Colonel von Brockenholz, Sir,” he said, offering Wilhelm a sealed letter. “You are to immediately make your way to the railroad station and board the train to Grantville, which is currently being held for you.”

“They’re holding the train for us?” Johann Fabricius asked from the bench where he had just signed for his rifle, ammunition, and brass catcher.

Wilhelm held up a hand for silence while he quickly skimmed through the contents of Colonel von Brockenholz’ letter. “That’s what it says.” He held up a travel warrant. “And this confirms it.”

“We haven’t finished drawing our equipment, Captain,” Sergeant Christoph Fels said.

Wilhelm glanced around. A couple of his men still hadn’t been issued their weapons and ammunition. “We’ll limit ourselves to a tactical loadout and Sergeant Fechser can send the rest of our equipment on after us.”

“But who is going to sign for it?” Leonhard protested. “Someone has to sign for it before it can leave the storeroom,”

Wilhelm released a frustrated breath. “Give me a blank form to sign.”

Leonhard dug out a form and handed it to Wilhelm. “This is very irregular, Sir.”

“Tell me about it,” Wilhelm muttered as he signed the blank form and handed it back to Leonhard.

Leonhard stared at the form. “But what do I send you?” he asked.

Wilhelm shrugged. “Just send us everything in our unit store.”

Leonhard’s brows shot up. “Everything?”

“Yes,” Wilhelm said. “We don’t have time to worry about details. Send us everything. We’ll sort it out in Regensburg.”

“Everything it is,” Leonhard said, writing the word clearly in the space provided for what was being signed for. “You do realize that you have accepted liability for everything?” he asked.

“Just do it, and finish issuing our weapons and ammunition so we can catch the train before the passengers start a revolt over the delay.”

Leonhard did as he was told and Wilhelm led his men at a dogtrot to the railroad station where they were hustled aboard. They hadn’t even taken their seats before the train started moving.

“Who’s for a game of cards?” Al Dinckeler asked as he pulled a deck out from his battledress breast pocket.

****

 

Ten days later, Regensburg

 

The 1st Marine Reconnaissance Company returned to their lodgings in Regensburg after yet another training exercise to find a welcome sight waiting for them. Wilhelm didn’t exactly run up to Sergeant Leonhard Fechser and hug him, but it he was sorely tempted. “Sergeant Fechser, it’s so good to see you at last.”

Leonhard saluted Wilhelm. “It took a while to pack everything, Sir,”‘ he said.

Wilhelm pointedly looked around. “Speaking of which . . .”

“It’s over there,” Leonhard said jerking his head in the direction of a warehouse.

“You brought everything?” Wilhelm asked.

“You said to bring everything, Sir.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Wilhelm hastened to placate the storeman. “I was just wondering if everything included the men’s PT kit?”

Leonhard emitted a loud sigh. “Everything includes the men’s physical training kit, Sir.”

Wilhelm smiled. “Perfect.” He turned to Sergeant Fels. “Get the men changed and take them for a run.”

“Will you be joining us, Sir?” Johann Fabricius asked.

Wilhelm sighed dramatically. “I’d really like to join you.” That remark was met with varying signs of disbelief. “However, as the officer responsible for our equipment, I have to check that everything I signed for has been delivered.” He turned to Leonhard. “Isn’t that correct, Sergeant?”

“Oh, yes, definitely, Captain Finck,” Leonhard said, nodding his head vigorously. “Everything has to be checked off.”

Wilhelm turned back to Johann. “It’s a hard job, Fabricius, but someone’s got to do it.”

“You’re all heart, Captain,” Christoph said.

“What do I have to do to become an officer?” Johann muttered.

That brought a smile to Wilhelm’s eyes. Johann Fabricius was always on the lookout for a cushy billet that paid more while expecting less. He remained by the door to the warehouse as Leonhard led his men to the packs that contained their PT gear. He was still standing there when they filed past, dressed for their run. “Enjoy yourselves,” he said. There was a smug smile on his face as he turned towards Leonhard. “Let’s get the paperwork started.”

“So you can join your men on their run?” Leonhard asked.

“Don’t be silly,” Wilhelm replied.

****

 

Twenty minutes later

 

Sergeant Christoph Fels was happily leading the rest of the company across the stone bridge that spanned the Danube River when he realized he couldn’t hear the footfalls of the other runners. He glanced back over his shoulder. “What the!” he muttered at the sight of four Marines leaning against the bridge’s stone parapet. He turned and strode menacingly towards them. “Who told you lot that you could stop running?” he demanded.

“We saw that,” Corporal Nik Müller said pointing into the distance.

“You saw what?” Christoph asked as he turned his attention to the direction Nik was pointing. “Oh!” he said when he saw the enormous balloon hanging over an island in the river. “What the heck is it?”

“It’s a Swordfish-class hot air dirigible,” Stephan Böhm said. “I saw a couple of them when I was doing the advanced medic course in Grantville.”

“Could we get a closer look, Sarge?” Johann Fabricius asked.

Christoph thought about it for a moment. There was a stairway and drawbridge separating them from the island, but that would give them easy access. The island, being mostly grass fields, also offered a better running surface than the cobbles they’d been running on. “Follow me,” he called as he headed for the guard house overlooking the stairs to the island.

****

Mary Tanner Barancek was tempted to sulk as she waved at the departing Pelican. She should have been aboard, but Stefano Franchetti had insisted that she stay behind while his cousin Giovanni flew as his co-pilot. He’d spouted some rubbish about power-to-weight ratios, completely ignoring the fact that a lot of Giovanni’s weight was the belly hanging over his belt. She spun round and stalked away, looking for something to kick. Unfortunately, the people who’d prepared the farmland as an airfield had done too good a job clearing away any stones.

It was in this less than sunny mood that she sighted a group of men running towards her. They weren’t actually running. It was more like they were jogging, in formation. That, as well as the pale blue t-shirts and shorts they were wearing, told her they were probably military.

There was a large symbol in a darker color emblazoned on their t-shirts. Mary stared at them through squinted eyes as she tried to identify it. Then she smiled. How like men to emblazon that symbol on their t-shirts. She walked towards them. “Who are you guys?” she called out.

Christoph and the others halted. “We’re the men from MARS,” he said indicating the astronomical symbol on his t-shirt.

“Really?” Mary’s mood was brightening up rapidly.

“It represents the shield and spear of Mars, the god of war,” Johann Fabricius said. “We’re graduates from the Schule der fortgeschrittenen Aufklärung für Seesoldaten.

As an American, Mary knew all about creating cool sounding acronyms from an organization’s name but this one had her stumped. “How do you get Mars from that?” she asked.

“From the English,” Nik Müller said. “The Marine Advanced Reconnaissance School.”

Mary grinned. “That is so ‘finding a cool acronym and making up a name to fit it’,” she said. “Did an American pick the name?”

“Yes,” Al Dinckeler said, “but you have to agree, it’s a cool name.”

Mary continued to stare at the guys. She was remembering some news stories. “Are you the guys that did the parachute display at the opening of Arts Week in Magdeburg last year?” she asked.

They nodded. “That was us,” Christoph confirmed.

“So are you guys planning on parachuting from the Pelican?” Mary asked. She waved in the general direction of the departing airship.

“That thing has enough payload to carry all of us and our equipment?” an incredulous Christoph demanded.

****

Regensburg had turned out to only be a brief stop on the long journey to join General Stearns and the 3rd Division. They’d stayed there long enough to collect and sort out all the equipment Sergeant Fechser had brought with him and settle him into his own little storeroom before setting out for Mainburg.

They covered the thirty-odd miles in a little over ten hours—a little slower than would normally be expected, but they were carrying an extra fifty pounds each in the form of their collapsed two-man kayaks. However, the rapidness of their transit was wasted. No one was expecting them, not even General Stearns, who was of course too busy to be disturbed.

“Hurry up and wait,” Johann Fabricius muttered as they were led to an obscure corner of the 3rd Division’s camp. “Effing typical,” he added with heat.

“Now that’s settled, I think we should make ourselves comfortable. Have a brew and something to eat. And then we can all go for a run.” Wilhelm smiled at them. “Won’t that be nice?”

The chorus of agreement was a little forced and lacked enthusiasm

****

 

Next day

 

The 1st Marine Reconnaissance Company were warming up gently before going on their morning run when an army runner ran up to them.

“Captain Finck?” the runner asked.

Wilhelm stepped forward. “That’ll be me.”

The runner saluted. “General Stearns would like to see you, Sir.”

“Now?” Johann Fabricius protested.

“I’m sure the general won’t mind if you take a few minutes to change, Sir,” the runner said.

Wilhelm turned to his company. “I’m sorry, men, but it seems General Stearns wants to see me.”

The snorts of derision from his loyal followers brought a smile to Wilhelm’s face. “I would accompany you on the run if I could, but one doesn’t keep a general waiting.” He turned to Christoph. “Take them away, Sergeant.”

****

The first thing Wilhelm noticed when he was shown into General Stearns’ HQ tent was the trestle tables set up in the middle of the space. There were a number of officers grouped around the tables. One of them he easily identified from various photographs he’d seen as General Mike Stearns, otherwise known as the Prince of Germany. He was, Wilhelm was pleased to note, no bigger than one would expect an up-timer to be. He stepped in and stood to attention. “Captain Wilhelm Finck of the 1st Marine Reconnaissance Company reporting, Sir.”

“At ease, Captain,” Mike said. “Please come over here,” he added, gesturing to the table. “You’re probably wondering why I requested your presence?”

Wilhelm smiled. “With Ingolstadt falling to the SoTF National Guard, I assume you are planning a move against Munich, Sir. And with several rivers blocking the 3rd Division’s path, I’m hoping that you want my unit to reconnoiter for suitable crossing places.” He smiled at the surprised looks he was getting from some of the army officers gathered around the general. It seemed they hadn’t expected such thinking from a Marine.

“That is correct,” Mike said. “We need to locate suitable crossing points on the Amper River.” He planted a finger on an area of the map. “How soon can you get your men down there?”

Wilhelm leaned forward for a better look. The map was similar to the one he and his men had been examining for the last week or so, only larger scale. “That’s about fifty miles as the crow flies. If it was friendly territory we could march there in a couple of days, but as it is potentially hostile country, it could take four or five days just to get there.” That didn’t go down well with his audience, but then, he hadn’t expected it to. “It would mean we’d have to carry over a week’s rations, which would slow us down some more.” He smiled at the general. “There is a faster way for us to get into position,” he said.

“Yes?” Mike asked.

“We could parachute in,” Wilhelm said. That elicited a few shocked intakes of breath from the army officers. He grinned at them before leaning over the map and pointing to a spot on the map where he thought his team could land and disappear into the trees before a Bavarian cavalry unit could arrive to look for them. “I think this location would be possible, although we’d have to overfly it first to make sure it isn’t too heavily wooded.”

Mike leaned closer to examine where Wilhelm was pointing. “You need a Jupiter, am I right?”

Wilhelm shook his head. “Not necessarily, sir. A Jupiter is the only airplane big enough for a parachute drop by more than one or two men. But we could do it from the Pelican.”

Mike frowned. “That thing would be visible for miles. There’s no way to use it for a mission that needs to be surreptitious.”

What the general was saying was essentially correct. The Pelican was something like One hundred fifty feet long and fifty feet wide at her widest point. However, there were ways to make even something that size almost invisible. “It depends on the time of day, sir. If we make the drop very early in the morning, there will be enough light for us to see but the airships won’t be very visible from the ground—and we certainly won’t be, falling over the side. If any Bavarian soldier does spot the airship they’ll simply think it’s on a reconnaissance mission.”

Wilhelm watched the emotions flash across the general’s face. He hoped General Stearns would go for the parachute drop. It would be a grand demonstration of one of his company’s unique capabilities, making the future of his unit a little more secure. It might even result in them getting the resources to expand the training cadre of six men into a real company.

“All right, Captain. We’ll make the drop. How soon can you be ready?”

Wilhelm shrugged nonchalantly, working hard to conceal his excitement. “That really depends more on when the Pelican can be placed at our disposal than it does on us, Sir. Me and my men can be ready by tomorrow morning.”

“Tell Franchetti—no, tell Major Simpson to tell Franchetti—to give you top priority.”

“Top priority.” They were such sweet words to Wilhelm’s ears. “When we find a good place to cross the river, Sir, what do you want us to do?” he asked. “Return or stay in place?” He so hoped the order would be to stay in place. The longer they stayed in the field the more chances there would be to prove themselves.

“Stay in place—if you can do so without being spotted. But don’t take any unnecessary risks, Captain. There’ll only be a handful of you and even allowing for your weaponry you’ll be overwhelmed by any sizeable enemy force.”

Wilhelm suppressed the urge to tell General Stearns that they were trained to do their job without being spotted. Instead he just acknowledged the order. “Yes, Sir. Shall I be off, then?”

“Yes. Good luck, Captain.”

Wilhelm was out of General Stearns’ HQ tent in a flash, and if he didn’t run—that would only overexcite and maybe panic anyone seeing him running—he certainly returned to his unit’s temporary accommodations at a very fast walk. He took a glance at his watch and smiled. He’d have time for a cup of tea before the rest of the unit got back from their run.

****

Wilhelm wasn’t a completely hard-hearted monster, and besides in such a small unit everyone had to chip in, so by the time Sergeant Fels led the rest of the unit back to the tent after their run he had a brew and enough food for everyone almost ready to serve up.

“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” Wilhelm said by way of greeting.

“What’s happening tomorrow then?” Johann Fabricius asked as he grabbed his mess kit.

“We parachute from the Pelican behind Bavarian lines so we can find a suitable crossing point for the 3rd Division’s advance on Munich,” Wilhelm answered before taking a sip of his tea.

“Seriously?” Christoph demanded his eye lit with excitement.

“Seriously,” Wilhelm confirmed. “Right now, Major Simpson should be passing on General Stearns’ orders to the Pelican’s pilot.

“We’d be doing a HALO jump . . . no.” Wilhelm paused to consider what to call the proposed jump. He doubted that the Pelican, being a hot air airship, could get high enough with a cargo of six fully-equipped Marine parachutists for it to count as a high altitude-low opening jump. “Make that a LALO jump at first light tomorrow morning.”

“How low will we be opening?” Johann asked.

Wilhelm shrugged. “I’m thinking we’ll need to open as low as we dare if we want to avoid being spotted.”

“So, it’ll be a bit of a waste of time taking the reserve chutes,” Al Dinckeler suggested.

Wilhelm thought about that. The reserve chutes were there for a reason, but it did take time to cut away a failed main canopy and deploy a reserve chute. And, given how low he was thinking they should deploy their main canopies, time was likely to be something they wouldn’t have a lot of if they had any problems during the jump. Still, having the reserve chute, even if you are unlikely to have time to deploy it, did give some degree of reassurance to a man. “It’ll be up to the individual whether or not he wants to carry a reserve chute.”

“It’ll be twenty pounds we don’t have to carry around once we land,” Johann said.

Wilhelm totally agreed with Johann, but he wasn’t prepared to order a man to jump without a reserve chute. “As I said, it will be up to the individual to choose whether or not he wants to carry a reserve chute.” He ran his eye over his men. They all had their mess tins full and were eating. “You’re all welcome to continue eating while I brief you,” he said as he opened up his map.

****

5:15 AM the next morning

 

The sun was still below the horizon as the Pelican drifted with the breeze. Three thousand feet below them Captain Wilhelm Finck could see the silvery ribbon of the River Amper. “Fabricius, do you have a lock in on the landing zone?” he asked the team scout.

Johann Fabricius lowered the pair of borrowed binoculars he’d been using. “Yes, Sir.”

“Can we get there from here?” Wilhelm asked.

Johann chewed on his lips for a few seconds, glanced down at the river, then back at Wilhelm. “I’d like another five to ten minutes drifting, Sir.”

Wilhelm glanced eastward, towards the lightening sky. Then he looked up at the enormous balloon that held the Pelican aloft. The moment the sun peaked over the horizon its rays would strike the gas bag like a spotlight. “We don’t have that much time,” he said. “Pick an alternative.”

Johann glanced eastward, then back at the ground below. He’d been aware that they might not get in range of their preferred landing zone before the sun got too high, so while he’d been searching for that landing zone he’d been checking out possible alternatives, so it didn’t take long to find one that should be within range. “I’ve got one,” he said.

“Then we go now,” Wilhelm said. He turned to the rest of his team and the two pilots. “Places,” he said.

The six Marines waddled over to their places on the railing, then, with Wilhelm calling out their numbers, each man dropped off the airship and plummeted groundward.

****

Giovanni looked over the edge of the airship’s gondola. Below him he could make out four of the six men who’d jumped from the airship against the ground below. “Where did they find those guys?” he asked his cousin.

“Mary said they were from Mars.”

“Ah!” Giovanni nodded in understanding. “Foreigners.” He glanced over the side of the airship once more. Below him he saw the parachute canopies open one after the other until there were six little rectangles of silk gently floating to the ground. He shook his head in disbelief at what he was seeing. “I didn’t think they could be Germans. Not even they are that foolish.”

 

 

Quelles Misérables

Paris

March, 1634

 

Armand-Jean du Plessis, priest, bishop, Cardinal-Duke of Richelieu and of Fronsac, and chief minister to His Most Christian Majesty, King Louis of France, thirteenth of that name, stood at the window and gazed at the gardeners at their work in the early afternoon. He watched as they plied their craft with spades and trowels and snips. He admired their skill and focus, and from time to time he was even a bit jealous. There were days where the thought of having honest dirt on his hands and the smell of honest manure in his nostrils appealed to him more than the spiritual reek of the court. But then, there was no one who could do his work as well as him, so if he didn’t do it, things would become even worse. Although he was beginning to have hopes of young Mazarini.

“Your Eminence.”

Richelieu looked back over his shoulder to where Servien stood inside the door.  He raised his eyebrows.

“There . . . is a visitor, Eminence.”

Richelieu considered his intendant. If he didn’t know better, he’d have thought that Servien was . . . uncertain. And that was a condition he had seldom seen in his intendant in all their years together.

“Has this visitor a name, Servien?”

“He is one Abbé Jehan Mercier, Eminence.”

A low-ranking cleric. Perhaps he was wanting to speak to the cardinal rather than the chief minister. That might be refreshing.

“Is he one of our informers?”

“No.”

Richelieu frowned. “Who did he bribe to get this far?”

“He, ah, carries an introduction from your niece.”

“From Marie-Madeleine?”

“Yes, Eminence.”

Well, that put a different light on things. If the Marquise de Combalet sent a lower-ranked cleric to see her uncle, it behooved him to meet the man. And it explained why Servien was handling the matter instead of a porter or guard.

“Then you had best admit him, Servien. We would not want the marquise unhappy with us.”

“Indeed, Eminence.”

Servien withdrew, then moments later ushered a short round figure into the room. Abbé Mercier was dressed in what was apparently his best priestly garments, but they were somewhat on the fusty and shabby side. Richelieu was almost prepared to dismiss the man as a waste of his time, but for two things: the marquise was not a fool, and the abbé’s eyes were both bright and focused.

Richelieu held out his ring. The abbé bent with a certain aplomb to kiss it, then straightened with a slight smile on his face. Richelieu was a bit intrigued and waved a hand at the chair placed before his desk.

“Please, Abbé Jehan, be seated. Servien, see to refreshment, please.” Servien beckoned to a servant. As Richelieu rounded the desk, he heard the servant offering coffee, tea, mocha, and wine. Richelieu settled into his chair as Servien took a stance against a side wall, close enough to be available to Richelieu if needed, yet far enough away to not be part of the conversation.

“Perhaps a little wine,” the abbé said in a high-pitched breathy tenor as he took his seat. Moments later, he was holding a Venetian glass of a red to rival the claret contained within it. Richelieu picked up the cup of mocha that had appeared at his elbow and took a sip. Perfect mocha in the American style. He took a larger sip, then set the cup down.

“How do you know the Marquise de Combalet, Abbé Jehan?”

A large smile appeared on the priest’s face, transforming the roundness of it to almost beam like the sun. “I minister at and through a hospice located outside Paris, mostly for poor folk who are dying, usually of consumption. The marquise learned of the work and has become one of our largest supporters. She has, upon occasion, invited me to her salons.”

“Ah.”

Richelieu gave a slight nod. His niece was given to works of charity, and it would be just like her to invite someone like this priest and set him in the middle of her usual salon set. On the other hand, that was another indication that there was more to Abbé Jehan than one might assume. She would not expose someone she valued to the eyes, ears, and tongues of the salons unless she was certain he could hold his own.

“So do you seek the face of the cardinal or the chief minister, Abbé Jehan?”

An expression of almost sadness crossed the priest’s face. “Perhaps both, Your Eminence.”

Richelieu made a “continue” gesture with one hand as he picked up his cup again with the other. Abbé Jehan drained the wine from his glass, then held it in both hands and leaned forward slightly.

“Your Eminence, I am concerned about the spiritual welfare of Paris, and indeed, all of France.”

That took Richelieu a bit aback. That was not what he would have expected from a man cultivated by his niece.

“In what manner?”

Mercier took a deep breath, and began, “For some time, Eminence, I have been aware of—not a flood—a current, shall we say—of works of literature that have been making their way into France from Grantville. Some of them are translations of works written mostly in English, but more than a few are works written originally in French. Or what passes for French in the up-time. And these have begun to attract attention, even notoriety.”

“Dumas,” Richelieu murmured.

The priest made a moue, then continued with, “Yes, yes, everyone is reading Dumas. And it’s not his work I’m most concerned with. Despite his licentiousness, the man supports— supported—whatever the correct phraseology should be—the proper order of things. The divinely ordained order, if you will.

“And of course, there are the adventures of Asterix the Gaul, copied from the up-time books and sent this way.” Mercier shrugged. “They are, of course, overtly pagan, but I deem them no threat. As lampoons, they have their uses, and I confess that something that sticks a thumb in the eye of the Romans as often as these stories do warms my heart a bit. They will provide no more harm than Plato or Aristotle.”

The priest held up a hand with the index finger standing alone.

“But, there is another, one whose work is becoming more widely available, whose work concerns me: Monsieur Victor Hugo.”

Richelieu raised his eyebrows and settled back in his chair, holding his cup in both hands. The abbé leaned forward a little more.

“This man apparently lived at much the same time as Dumas, yet his works were very different. His most well-known work, Les Miserables, has been discovered by some enterprising soul mining the archives of Grantville, and an effort has begun to replicate the work today and disseminate it among the people of France, in particular the people of Paris, from what I can determine. It focuses on the lives of downtrodden poor and folk who were unfortunates in a time of rebellion and strife, when the very warp and weft of Paris and France were in danger of being pulled asunder.

“If Hugo were another Dumas, or even a fabulist such as Jules Verne, I would have little concern over him or the effect of his work. But the man was no such thing. From his writings, he appears to have been at the very least a subversive republican, if not an outright anarchist. Yet he was such a writer that he can reach into the minds and hearts of men and set them aflame. Even now, every couple of weeks or so a new signature of the reproduction of Les Miserables appears, and with each appearance the circle of readers widens and deepens. Even amongst my little flock, I hear rumblings of discontent being stirred by the ladle of those pages, and I fear that they are but the merest hint of what is simmering on the fires of the times.” Mercier’s voice had grown louder and more impassioned as he spoke. He made an obvious effort to sit back and take a deep breath.

Richelieu judged that the man was seriously concerned about the matter. This was not just something he was using as an entrée to the higher levels of the court. In another man, that would have been a very likely consideration, but the abbé, despite his apparent sharpness of wit, didn’t seem to be maneuvering that direction.

The cardinal took a sip of his cooling mocha, then cradled the cup in his hands. “So, again, do you come to me as cardinal or as chief minister? What recommendations do you bring?”

“I come to you in whatever manner you stand as guardian of the spirituality of the people of France,” the priest responded with some passion. “I urge you to do what must be done to protect the souls of France from the pernicious influence of the writing of Victor Hugo. I urge you to suppress his work, to declare it unworthy of France. At the very least, I ask that you be aware of it, and have your eyes and ears follow it, lest it become a source of active unrest in the corpus of France.”

Richelieu stared over the rim of his cup at the abbé as he finished his mocha. He set the empty cup down on his desk, clasped his hands before his midriff, and focused a long gaze on the priest, who was staring back at him earnestly, apparently having spent his passion.

“As it happens,” Richelieu said at length, “we are aware of the matter you have raised. It is a matter of some concern, this wholesale importation of unauthorized works that bids to upset the normal channels of our ancien régime. So, you may take some comfort from that.”

The expression of relief that spread over Mercier’s face gave an almost palpable air within the room. The smile that appeared seemed to take a few years off of his appearance, leaving Richelieu to wonder if he had overestimated the man’s age.

“Thank you, Your Eminence,” the abbé, his tone reflecting a certain amount of both humility and gratitude. “I had hoped that my concerns were not new to you, but it is good to know that you are well-informed and already have the matter in hand.”

“Indeed,” Richelieu said. “Those who are printing these scurrilous publications cannot make a move that we are not aware of. We are simply watching to see who has become entangled in their nets.”

“Ah,” Mercier said, with a bit of a knowing nod. “Well, since that is the case, I will apologize for having bothered you with my petty concerns and take my leave. God’s blessing on you, Your Eminence.” He rose as he spoke, and Servien materialized to take the wine glass from him.

“It is of no matter, Abbé Jehan,” Richelieu responded. “And do, if you see or hear anything that bears on the matter, give us word of it. Or as much as you can without breaking the seal of the confessional, of course.”

“As you direct, Your Eminence,” the abbé responded. He gave a final bow, and allowed Servien to usher him from the room.

Richelieu chuckled when Servien slipped back into the room. “Ah, if he only knew, eh, Servien?”

“Indeed, Eminence,” the intendant responded with a small smile.

“Wait until he encounters Voltaire and Camus,” the cardinal said. Another chuckle followed. “Make note of him, Servien. He might prove to be useful.”

Servien placed a folder on the desk. “The latest report at last, Eminence.”

“Ah?” Richelieu placed a possessive hand on top of the folder. “And why was this late, Servien?”

“The local distributor said that it was delayed by some officious guard at one of the city gates.”

“Make a note of that as well, Servien.”

“Yes, Eminence.”

And with that, Servien slipped out of the room while Richelieu opened the folder. “Now, let’s see what Jean Valjean and Monsieur Thénardier have to say this week.” He bent over the folder and began to read.

****

Blood Brothers

Winter, 1635

Near Modern-Day Rhode Island

 

Fast as Lightning in the Sky watched the person he hated most in all the world approach him from the long line of snow-covered trees. He gnashed his teeth against the cold and reflected on his feelings. Perhaps hate was too strong. He hated no one. But this boy, this Montaukett warrior named Speaks His Mind, had a strut, a way of carrying himself that bothered Fast as Lightning. He tried hiding his disdain as Speaks His Mind stepped up to him through the drifted snow, smiling ear to ear as if he hadn’t a care in the world. But he should care, Fast as Lightning thought, for they were about to face the enemy.

“Runs Like Deer,” Speaks His Mind said in greeting, “why do you look so trodden upon?”

“I am Fast as Lightning in the Sky now,” the former Runs Like Deer said. “It is the Red God I serve from this day forward, and that is the name he has given me.” He tried showing as much respect as possible. Speaks His Mind’s father was sachem for all the Montaukett people. That alone was reason enough to show deference.

“Yes, we have heard,” Speaks His Mind said, nodding and looking Fast as Lightning up and down as if a change in name meant a change in body as well. When he saw that no physical change was present, he continued. “They say a white man gave you that god. A dead white man.”

Speaks His Mind’s emphasis on ‘dead’ angered Fast as Lightning. He took a step forward, imagined the back of his hand smacking blood from Speaks His Mind’s mouth. He thought better of it and held his ground. He smiled. “The people from the future, the up-timers they are called, brought the Red God to our land. He speaks to me like no other god before him. I found him in the pages of the white man’s book. He called to me and made me his own.”

Speaks His Mind nodded. “And yet, the Red God was not powerful enough to keep the English white man who gave him to you from dying. What does that say about the Red God’s power?”

It was an insult, and Fast as Lightning reconsidered his patience. Yet, there was truth in what Speaks His Mind had stated, a truth that perhaps Fast as Lightning had ignored. The Red God had been good to him since they had met. And yet . . .

“The sun is about to set, Speaks His Mind,” Fast as Lightning said, ignoring the brash comment. “Your father has asked me to accompany you to Sun Rising’s village. The Narragansett people are Montauk enemies and have been so for a long time. Why do we go and speak with him?”

Speaks His Mind turned and walked back towards the tree line. Fast as Lightning followed, lifting his bear fur-wrapped boots high with each step to plod through the drifted snow. “The Mohegans have been raiding both Montaukett and Narragansett villages all winter. They have captured many of our people, children included, and are selling them as slaves to tribes north. This cannot be allowed to continue. We now have a mutual enemy, Sun Rising and I, and so we will go and speak with him and convince him to give us warriors for the negotiations with Sachem Raging Wolf.”

Fast as Lightning shook his head. “Raging Wolf of the Mohegans will never negotiate with you or with Sun Rising.”

They reached the treeline. There, five Montaukett warriors rose out of the snow. Fast as Lightning was impressed by how well their thick white wolf pelts blended seamlessly with the drift. Speaks His Mind greeted them with kind gestures, then turned to Fast as Lightning, and said, “I am Speaks His Mind, or so I am told. But negotiation is not always conducted with words; your Red God should know this, coming from a white man. Sometimes force is the best argument, and so we will go to Sun Rising in force and see what he has to say. And then . . .” He drew a tomahawk from his belt and waved it through the cold air. “. . . we will meet Raging Wolf for further negotiation.”

“You might start a war, Speaks His Mind,” Fast as Lightning said. “A war that you might not be able to win. Raging Wolf has English friends. Many English friends.”

Speaks His Mind shrugged. “Then Raging Wolf may not be able to hear the truth of my words. But I have to try. My father expects me to. My people expect me to. I have been asked to do this, and I will do it. Will you attend me or not?”

What arrogance! What bravado! How has this boy not been killed yet by an enemy’s blade? Yet, there was strength in Speaks His Mind’s words and eyes that Fast as Lightning found appealing, and he wondered how the Red God would manifest himself through this impetuous little boy that stood before him, layered in deerskin, bear fur, and snow.

“Very well,” Fast as Lightning said. “I will come, if for no other reason but to try to keep you alive.”

Speaks His Mind chuckled. He put his hand on Fast as Lightning’s shoulder. “Pray to your Red God that he keeps us both alive.”

****

Sun Rising was sachem and a highly respected man among the Narragansett people. Therefore, it was an honor to be admitted to his long house and invited to smoke. Speaks His Mind accepted the invitation for himself and for Fast as Lightning. The rest of their men waited outside standing guard, for they were in dangerous territory, despite Sun Rising’s warm welcome. Fast as Lightning was not sure how Sun Rising and the Narragansett people would view five Montaukett warriors fully armed outside their sachem’s dwelling. But Sun Rising took it in stride, and so they entered, shared greetings, smoked, and talked.

“Raging Wolf is powerful,” Sun Rising said, his elder voice coarse and broken with occasional fits of coughing. “The Mohegan are powerful. You do not have enough men to defeat them.”

“That is why I have come to you, Sun Rising,” Speaks His Mind said, drawing smoke from a pipe. He let the smoke drift from his mouth like a snake, then he said, “I propose that we confront him together, you and I and any warriors you may wish to add to my party. If we go together, united, and he sees that the Narragansett and Montaukett people stand against him, how can he not relent?”

Sun Rising grunted and puffed on his pipe. “Raging Wolf is younger than me, but he is still old like me, and age can make men stubborn. Raging Wolf believes that he is destined to be chief of all Algonquin lands. It is a foolish dream, of course, but dreams can sometimes make men do foolish things. He has the support of the English colonists too, most of them anyway, despite my personal relationship with William Bradford of the Plymouth colony. Raging Wolf is strong, and no amount of Narragansett and Montaukett warriors will stay his hand in this long, bitter winter.”

Speaks His Mind drew smoke from his pipe, then handed it to Fast as Lightning, who took it humbly and smoked. Speaks His Mind cleared his throat, then said, “I do not propose that we go and fight him, Sachem Sun Rising. I propose that we go and make peace with him, and that we propose an alliance to stand against the coming Ring of Fire.”

From the blank expression on his face, it was clear that Sun Rising did not understand this term. Fast as Lightning wasn’t sure that he understood it either. All he had heard about it was rumor and hearsay from French, English, and Dutch colonists. Indeed, the Red God he worshipped had come through the Ring of Fire, but he did not know if anything else from it would come all the way over from Europe.

“Tell him, Fast as Lightning,” Speaks His Mind said, gesturing him forward. “Tell Sachem Sun Rising about your Red God, and how he seized you as a worshipper without your consent. Tell him about the dead Englishman who brought the Red God to you and how he sacrificed himself to the snake so that his spirit would carry the Red God’s message to you. Tell him about the people that have come through the Ring of Fire from the future, descended they say, from the English, and how they intend on riding boats powered by boiling water and dragon fire across the great sea, to bring death and desolation to us all. Tell him!”

Speaks His Mind raised his voice, and Fast as Lightning had to admit that it was a good show. But that’s all it was: a show. And lies . . . all lies. None of it was true, or, at least, none of it could be proven. There were rumors, whispers among colonists about the Ring of Fire. But it was all speculation, and it certainly was not the case that the Red God had coerced Fast as Lightning in any way. He had accepted him with open arms and open heart.

Fast as Lightning stared back at Speaks His Mind, trying to figure out how to refute everything the little cretin had just said. His hatred for the boy rose, but he swallowed his anger, breathed deeply, and nodded. “There is some truth in what Speaks His Mind says, Sachem Sun Rising.” It was difficult for Fast as Lightning to lie about his god, but he sensed that that was what Speaks His Mind wished him to do. “I am burdened by the Red God’s will, though I struggle against it every day. And the colonists speak of ships that belch fire, and muskets that can put a warrior down at nearly a mile. These are truths, and that is the future that awaits us when the Ring of Fire comes.” Fast as Lightning wondered if he had gone too far but Speaks His Mind’s sudden glance at him told him that he done exactly what had needed to be done.

“And so you see, Sachem Sun Rising,” Speaks His Mind said, in his most earnest voice, “it is very likely that the English are supporting Raging Wolf’s raids against us, so that our two peoples are weak for the coming spring . . . and for the coming Ring of Fire. The English are not Raging Wolf’s allies. None of the white colonists are and never have been, but this is different, more sinister, more evil. Raging Wolf is being deceived by the English thralls of the people of the future, and I believe that once he sees how Fast as Lightning has been seized by their infernal Red God, he will know the truth of it, and ally with us, so that we may stand together, as one nation, against the coming Ring of Fire.

“So, I ask you again, Sachem Sun Rising, come with me to meet Raging Wolf and make him see the truth.”

Sun Rising puffed on his pipe for a very long time, staring into the fire between them. Fast as Lightning could hear the bitter wind pick up outside the longhouse. He drew his bearskin robe up tighter around him and shivered despite the warm fire. He was angry, furious in fact, for allowing Speaks His Mind to put him in such a spot with Sun Rising. He wanted to reach out and smack the boy’s smug little face. He imagined doing so by the spirit of the Red God that now coursed through his veins. But he waited until the Narragansett chief finally spoke.

“My people are concerned about my health, Speaks His Mind,” Sun Rising said, followed by a fit of coughing. “This winter is very cold, and I am coughing more than usual. Thus, I will respect my people’s concern and refuse your offer to go see Raging Wolf for myself. However, I will give you five of my warriors to match your five. And I will also ask my nephew, Good Hawk, to represent me in these negotiations. He will be sachem one day. The experience will be to his benefit. They will go with you and support you in this effort.”

Hearing all this, Speaks His Mind smiled and nodded. “I thank you, Sachem Sun Rising. Today, I hope we have forged a lasting peace between our peoples.”

Sun Rising stood with help, but his back was curved and he leaned forward in his thick wrappings. “Go now,” he said, waving them away. “I must rest. But listen to me, Speaks His Mind. Take caution with Raging Wolf. He is unlike any sachem you have ever faced. He is brave, wise, and deceitful. Go in peace, and let us pray that your skills as a speaker, as a negotiator, will bear fruit.”

****

When they were far away from Sun Rising’s longhouse and men, Fast as Lightning grabbed Speaks His Mind by the scruff and pushed him against a tree. “You have dishonored me. You lied to Sun Rising about me. I was not taken by the Red God. I accepted him willingly, and I have benefited from him. Nor are the rumors about the up-timers and their Ring of Fire correct. The English despise them, and so do the French. Only the Dutch seem to accept them, and that, too, is suspect. So why did you lie? Why?”

Speaks His Mind’s men came up and crowded Fast as Lightning, and suddenly he realized that he had let his anger get the better of him. He let go. Speaks His Mind adjusted himself, waited until Fast as Lightning stepped back a few paces, then he said, “I will do what I have to do to save our people. If it means lying to an old man to ensure that he gives me what I need, I will do so. And come good weather, if my lie turns against me and I suffer for it, so be it. What matters to me is now. We have to stop Raging Wolf from attacking our villages . . . now!

“Besides, what I said was only half false. All the colonists who know or have heard of these people from the Ring of Fire agree. They are coming, and they are, for the most part, descended from English colonies that do not even exist yet, and maybe they will never exist now. We know nothing about these people, but we do know one thing: the white man has never dealt with our people honorably. Individual white men, yes; one can always find a flower among the weeds. But they are coming, Fast as Lightning. The people who created your Red God will come, and their ships and weapons are better than ours, better than the English and French colonists that we know. But is their heart better? Are they better human beings? We cannot afford to wait and see. We must unite now and be ready when they come.

“So yes, I lied to Sun Rising. And I will do it all over again if I have to.”

Fast as Lightning did not speak. He just stood there, staring into this young boy’s eyes. How was it possible that such a young man had so much wisdom? It didn’t seem real. He was still furious for being forced to lie, to deceive Sun Rising. The Narragansett leader was an enemy true, and perhaps it was fine to deceive an enemy to get what you wanted, as Speaks His Mind had just said. But deception was a dangerous path. He knew that. Once a man travelled that path, it was difficult to stop, for one lie always led into another, until a man could not tell the difference between a lie and a truth.

Fast as Lightning sighed deeply, nodded, and said, “Very well, Speaks His Mind. This is your mission. Your father has given you command of it. Now that you have your men, what is our next move?”

Speaks His Mind stepped away from the tree, smiling ear to ear. It was clear that he had no doubt about their next move, and that scared Fast as Lightning the most.

****

“Raging Wolf has refused to let us enter his home,” Fast as Lightning’s growl of discontent was faint in the growing wind.

Speaks His Mind nodded. “But nonetheless, he did agree to meet with us. I will see that as… hope.”

“It is an insult.” Fast as Lightning spat into the snow. “We should refuse the meeting immediately.”

“We have no time for such petty concerns, follower of the Red God. Raging Wolf has agreed to meet and that is enough.”

Sun Rising’s nephew, Good Hawk, appeared to be watching them intently as they argued back and forth, as if gathering his thoughts before entering the conversation. Then he walked over to them and said, “Speaks His Mind is right. But so are you, Fast as Lightning. Raging Wolf looks down upon us just as sure as we know that the sun will rise in the morning. I do not trust him. But even should he agree to join us, could we fully rely on his word? He is as a white man now. They even say that his eyes have turned as white as an Englishman’s.”

“It would seem we have little choice,” Speaks His Mind said. “We can but hope he will listen to reason and see the truth of things.”

The five Montauk and five Narragansett warriors who joined with them had spread out around the clearing, waiting as patiently as they could for Raging Wolf to arrive. The Narragansett warriors, however, appeared to be keeping close to Good Hawk. Fast as Lightning did not doubt that Sun Rising had instructed them to make sure that his nephew returned to him alive.

“Someone comes!” One of the Montauk warriors said, pointing to the clearing’s northern edge.

A man, alone and with a stride that bespoke the fearlessness of his heart and his name, entered the clearing.

“Raging Wolf!” Speaks His Mind said upon recognizing the man. “We welcome you.”

Fast as Lightning stared at Raging Wolf. There was no doubt the man was a hardened warrior, but it was disturbing that the Mohegan had come alone to this meeting. The man was either braver than Fast as Lightning imagined him being or very foolish. Perhaps both.

“Speaks His Mind,” Raging Wolf said, appraising the smaller man. “I am told that you would speak with me.” He lifted his fur-covered arms and turned to acknowledge everyone else in attendance. “And you brought a party. Do you fear me?”

Speaks His Mind shook his head. “A man would be foolish not to, Raging Wolf, Sachem of the Mohegans. I am told that there is much to fear in your stare, though looking upon your face now, it does not seem so untrustworthy. Perhaps they were wrong. Perhaps you are a man that can be spoken to in a rational manner.”

Raging Wolf already seemed to grow weary of the banter. Fast as Lightning could see the Mohegan’s jaw clench as he gnashed his teeth in rapid succession. “Very well. Speak to me then. Why do you come to me?”

Speaks His Mind nodded and cleared his throat. “I would speak with you about the coming ring.”

“Ring? What ring?”

“The Ring of Fire,” Speaks His Mind said. “I know that you are aware of it. You hear the rumors like we do, from your English friends. Your relationship with the white man is well known. Surely you must see the danger that comes with them.”

Raging Wolf shook his head, his strong, prominent nose wiggling in the cold air as if sniffing for meat. “My friendship to the white man is strong. They are of no threat to me, nor is this ‘ring of fire’ that you speak of.”

“They use you, Raging Wolf,” Speaks His Mind said bluntly. “They turn our tribes against one another. Already you raid us, taking our women and children as slaves for them. I ask you: where will it end, Raging Wolf? When they have destroyed the Montaukett and the Narragansett, will they not turn upon the Mohegan?”

“You speak as if you would have me go to war with the white man.” Raging Wolf frowned, his earlier arrogance and solid stance lessened in his tone. “There has always been war among the tribes. That is nothing new. I raid your villages for slaves because I choose to do so, not at the white man’s bidding.”

“But they are the ones who buy them from you and sell them further north to tribes that they wish to influence even more,” Speaks His Mind argued. “Should you not stand with your own? You ask if I would have you go to war with the white man. I would ask you to do this, but not alone. Our tribes would stand with you to protect this land and our way of life.” Speaks His Mind gestured at the Narragansett man standing beside him. “This is Good Hawk, nephew of Sun Rising and soon to be Sachem of the Narragansett. Let him tell you that his people also see the dangers of the up-time white men from the Ring of Fire.”

Fast as Lightning saw Good Hawk flinch as he was put on the spot, like he himself had been just a day ago in a lie against his god. But Good Hawk straightened, breathed deeply, and spoke with the authority of his uncle.

“We do stand with Speaks His Mind’s people,” Good Hawk nodded. “If we do not unite, then hope will be lost. None of us alone can stand against the weapons of those from this Ring of Fire. I have never seen any of them, but what I have heard is true. They are devils conceived from a blinding flash of light, and they are coming, Raging Wolf. None of us are safe.”

“I have already told you that the white man is not my enemy,” Raging Wolf said, his eyes blinking wildly against the cold wind.

“See this man?” Speaks His Mind stabbed a finger in Fast as Lightning’s direction. “The white man’s Red God has claimed his soul. I brought him here to show you the horrors that await us all if we fail to act.”

Fast as Lightning didn’t know exactly what lie Speaks His Mind expected of him this time, but it was clear he was to make a show of his affliction for Raging Wolf. He began twitching his body as he had seen those who had been bitten by a poisonous snake. He bubbled saliva on his lips as he mumbled words that had no meaning, words that he made up quickly with no thought. He raved and babbled like a madman as his body shook. Two Montauk warriors stepped forward to take hold of him. As they did, he ended his spectacle by crying out, “Red God! Red God come across the waves! Come to us so that we may serve you! All must serve him!”

Raging Wolf seemed convinced that Fast as Lightning was mad, taking a step back, his hand sliding to touch the hilt of the large knife sheathed on his hip.

“What happened to this fool?” Raging Wolf asked.

“As I told you, their Red God has claimed him. What remains of his mind is filled with the god’s red fury. Such a fate awaits us all if we do not act and do so soon,” Speaks His Mind urged Raging Wolf. “Will you join with us to stand against the white man?”

Raging Wolf stared at Speaks His Mind in silence. Fast as Lightning caught the wink Raging Wolf gave in the direction of the trees to the west as he raised a hand to scratch his cheek.

The twang of a bowstring being released followed.

“A trap!” Fast as Lightning screamed as he felt the power of the Red God flowing through him. He threw himself at Speaks His Mind, plowing into the boy and taking them both to the ground as an arrow flew through the air where Speaks His Mind had stood a moment before.

From the trees surrounding the clearing came Raging Wolf’s Mohegan warriors. They wore war paint with an eager bloodlust in their eyes. Bowstrings twanged as they unleashed a volley of arrows at the Narragansett and Montaukett warriors. One of the Narragansetts took an arrow to the heart and staggered backwards before falling to the ground. Another arrow buried itself in the shoulder of a Montaukett warrior. The man grunted loudly, his features twisting into a snarl. He tore the arrow free from his flesh and charged at the ambushers while drawing his knife. His charge was cut short as two more arrows slammed into him, one piercing his exposed throat, the other plunging into his gut.

The quiet of the clearing had turned into chaos and violence. Fast as Lightning was up in an instant, leaving Speaks His Mind struggling to get to his feet. One of Fast as Lightning’s tomahawks flew end over end through the air as he flung it at one of Raging Wolf’s bowmen. The side of the man’s skull split open as the weapon’s blade sunk into it. Fast as Lightning yanked his other tomahawk from his belt and charged the bowmen. They were already discarding their bows and engaging the Narragansett and Montaukett warriors who had survived their initial attack.

More of Raging Wolf’s warriors entered the clearing from the other side. Fast as Lightning noticed that Speaks His Mind was directly in their path as they advanced into the clearing with maddening war cries. To his credit, Speaks His Mind did not run from them. He stood his ground, though feebly, and met them. Speaks His Mind’s tomahawk slashed a wide gash across the chest of the first warrior to reach him. The man shrieked before Speaks His Mind finished him with a savage swing of his tomahawk against the man’s neck. Speaks His Mind readied himself to engage the next of Raging Wolf’s warriors, his eyes wild but steady and determined.

An arrow flew from the trees and caught Speaks His Mind in the shoulder. He dropped his weapon, just as he was trying to thwart a blow from another Mohegan warrior standing in front of him. He failed to block the attack, and the Mohegan’s war club struck Speaks His Mind’s skull and sent him reeling. Blood flowed from Speaks His Mind’s forehead as he staggered and then toppled over.

Fast as Lightning tore into the line of Raging Wolf’s bowmen, the power of the Red God blessing him with speed. His tomahawk slashed open one bowman’s cheek, knocking him aside, and Fast as Lightning spun to catch a second bowman in the neck with his tomahawk’s blade. The man’s blood spurted over Fast as Lightning as he kicked the man’s flailing body away from him. Fast as Lightning counted over two dozen warriors from Raging Wolf’s tribe still facing them, and he saw that Speaks His Mind had fallen and knew this was a fight that he and his allies could not win.

“Raging Wolf!” Fast as Lightning heard Good Hawk roar. “Face me!”

Raging Wolf was laughing as he drew his knife and joined the fight, wading through the carnage that now littered the red-and-white trampled ground of the clearing. Good Hawk hefted his war club with a grim expression of determination and rage. He swung the club at Raging Wolf’s head, but the Mohegan sachem was quick. Raging Wolf easily avoided the blow, rushing in close to Good Hawk. He rammed his knife’s blade upwards and into Good Hawk’s ribs. Good Hawk coughed blood, but managed to shove Raging Wolf away. Raging Wolf laughed as Good Hawk’s war club fell from his hands. Blood stained Good Hawk’s chin as he drew his knife and lurched forward at Raging Wolf. Raging Wolf dodged a flurry of wild swings as Good Hawk slashed at him. Good Hawk’s blade struck nothing but empty air as Raging Wolf outmaneuvered him until Raging Wolf finally reached out to catch Good Hawk’s wrist with his left hand. Holding Good Hawk’s weapon at bay, Raging Wolf slid close to him, ramming his knife into Good Hawk’s belly and twisting the blade. Good Hawk howled in pain, blood flying from his lips. When Raging Wolf released him, he dropped to his knees. Raging Wolf spat on him in contempt before a final slash of his knife opened Good Hawk’s throat in an explosion of red.

The fight had drawn the attention of Raging Wolf’s warriors, thus giving Fast as Lightning time to reach Speaks His Mind. One of Raging Wolf’s warriors stood over the wounded boy. Fast as Lightning struck the warrior in the face with the butt of his tomahawk, shattering the man’s teeth. As the warrior staggered from the blow, Fast as Lightning finished him with a swing of his tomahawk that cut the man’s face open from forehead to chin.

Fast as Lightning picked Speaks His Mind up, throwing him over his shoulder. Then he ran, praying to the Red God for speed as he went, his legs aching beneath him as he raced out of the clearing, leaving Raging Wolf and his gleeful warriors behind. The few surviving Narragansett and Montaukett warriors followed after him.

****

The escape from the Mohegan ambush had been a narrow one. Their party had been reduced from thirteen to seven. Three of those seven had taken terrible wounds, Speaks His Mind’s worst among them. They had run for what seemed like hours before finally feeling secure enough to stop and do what they could for the wounded. With Speaks His Mind wounded so badly and Good Hawk dead, Fast as Lightning found himself in charge of those who remained.

A small fire crackled and burned in the center of the small clearing where they had stopped for the night. There had been no signs of pursuit from Raging Wolf’s men for some time now, and Fast as Lightning was sure that Raging Wolf and his warriors were done with them. For now, at least.

Two of the warriors stood watch as the others tended to the wounded. Speaks His Mind lay near the fire. His groaning broke Fast as Lightning’s heart. However wise and fearless he might be, Speaks His Mind’s life had been cut short, and Fast as Lightning knew the boy wouldn’t make it through the night.

Fast as Lightning knelt at Speaks His Mind’s side. Speaks His Mind looked up at him with weary, bloodshot eyes.

“That did not go as I had hoped,” Speaks His Mind rasped.

“You can’t blame yourself, Speaks His Mind,” Fast as Lightning tried to comfort him. “Raging Wolf surely always intended to betray us. Your intentions were good. His were not.” Anger boiled in Fast as Lightning’s blood. The Red God boiled. “I will see to it that he pays for his betrayal.”

Speaks His Mind nodded. “But you do not have many men left, my friend. Not enough to go after him now. Go to Sun Rising. Tell him of Good Hawk’s death. He will seek the right vengeance against Raging Wolf.”

Wisdom again was flowing from this young man, this near-death boy whose impressive behavior was growing stronger in Fast as Lightning’s mind. Going back to the Narragansett was the right thing to do. They did not have enough men to confront Raging Wolf. Going back to Sun Rising, however, meant certain war. And that was not why they had faced Raging Wolf in the first place, what Speaks His Mind had wanted. What would Sun Rising do once he did learn that Raging Wolf had killed his nephew and next sachem of the Narragansett people? Wage war against the Mohegan, probably. But maybe if Raging Wolf were killed beforehand, that might sate Sun Rising’s need for revenge and give them all a chance later to unite against the Ring of Fire. Maybe . . .

“I will go and kill Raging Wolf myself.”

The camp paused, and every man around the fire stared at Fast as Lightning. Surely, he was mad with what he had just said. Perhaps the Red God had made him crazy after all. Fast as Lightning stood amidst their confused stares. He placed his hands on his hips and stared them all down.

“I will go with you,” one Montaukett warrior said. A Narragansett warrior did the same, and then another, and another, until five of the remaining seven had stood and offered their allegiance for Fast as Lightning’s plan.

“Give me your knife,” Speaks His Mind said through a terrible cough.

Fast as Lightning shook his head. “No, I will not let you kill yourself. You may live yet.”

“Give me your knife!”

He did as requested, placing the knife into Speaks His Mind’s shaking hand. “Now, come to me.”

Fast as Lightning knelt. Speaks His Mind pulled deer skin away from his arm, exposing his wrist. He placed the knife against his skin and drew the blade across it, spilling blood. “Now, give me your wrist.”

Fast as Lightning’s heart leapt. He had never done this with anyone; he wondered if he wanted to do it now. But he did as requested, pulling his covering away from his arm. Speaks His Mind cut it quickly.

They locked arms, their blood pressing together. Fast as Lightning held tightly, squeezing Speaks His Mind’s arm until surely it must have hurt. But the young boy never flinched, never moved. Instead, he smiled. “Now we are bound together as brothers forever,” he said. “And perhaps I will gain some of the fire that your Red God possesses.”

Fast as Lightning nodded. “And perhaps I will gain some of your wisdom.”

They held arms together for several more minutes. Then Speaks His Mind pulled away. “Go now, my brother, and seek your vengeance.”

****

They retraced their steps back to the ambush site, and Fast as Lightning was pleased. The Red God had honored him with fair weather. Snow had not fallen in this place, and the moon was out, so they could easily follow the beaten path left by the Mohegans as they fell back to their village. It was still bitter cold, but Fast as Lightning did not feel it. Now, he felt only anger and sorrow. For even if he succeeded on this raid and Raging Wolf lay dead at his feet, Speaks His Mind might never know the truth. The thought of it made his arm warm where the boy had cut him.

It did not take long to find the Mohegan village. It was circular, like most he had seen, and surrounded by a wooden palisade. Small fires from the houses flickered in the moonlight, and thin lines of smoke could be seen drifting away in the cold air. It was quiet, save for the bark of a dog. Fast as Lightning counted his men again. Five, including himself. He shook his head. What a foolish thing to come here. Speaks His Mind had been correct, but it was too late to stop now. Somewhere down there, hopefully fat with venison and arrogant and loud, lay Raging Wolf, telling tall tales of how he bested Good Hawk, and left him to die. Fast as Lightning shivered at the thought of it.

“Let’s go!” Fast as Lightning said, and they followed him down the wooded ridgeline and up to the entrance. There was no gate, for this was friendly territory, and what did Raging Wolf have to fear anyway? There were guards, just two, wrapped heavily against the cold. Fast as Lightning walked up to them as if he were a Mohegan coming back from a hunt. They did not notice his differences until he was upon the first guard. The man tried moving to block his passage, uttered a word, then received a thick war club across his face. Fast as Lightning’s hand moved faster than he thought possible, the Red God’s gift working through his stiff muscles to give him strength and speed. The other guard tried to raise his tomahawk, but was put down with three strikes against his head. Both were down before any alarm could be sounded.

They pulled the limp bodies to the snow bank and covered them as best as possible. Then they entered the village.

The houses were lined up in a circle around the village. They took the outer walkway, in between a row of houses and the garden plots that lay fallow and covered in snow and ice. Fast as Lightning could smell seared meat on the wind. He sniffed twice, letting his stomach react positively to the scent. He did not realize how hungry he was. But that would have to wait. Right now, they needed a diversion.

The house at the very end of the row seemed the most logical. Fast as Lightning nodded to his men. They nodded back, knowing in advance what they were supposed to do. He did not like it, but what other choice did they have? Their women and children had been killed and captured by the dozens.

The men rushed inside the longhouse, catching the family inside by surprise. There was much screaming, shouting, killing. As he held guard outside, Fast as Lightning shut his eyes and said a small prayer for them. War was a terrible endeavor. He knew this, but maybe some good would come from all this once it was over.

The chaos inside subsided. Fast as Lightning watched to see if they had sounded any alarm. Nothing so far, and his men emerged from the longhouse, followed by heavy grey smoke.

They continued their move around the perimeter of the village. The house they left behind was burning strongly now, and people were beginning to notice and file out of their own houses.

The flow of people towards the fire was constant, and Fast as Lightning was pleased. The diversion had worked. Now all they needed was to find Raging Wolf.

But Fast as Lightning knew where he was. It came to him now, suddenly, like a dream, as if he had been to this Mohegan village before. He had never stepped foot in it. The cut on his arm burned, and he wondered if perhaps Speaks His Mind had been here before, as a child perhaps, with his father. It was possible.

Fast as Lightning stood tall, and flanked by his men, he walked proudly, defiantly towards Raging Wolf’s longhouse, as anxious Mohegan men and women passed them as if they were not there, their minds fixed on the fire burning through one of their homes.

Sachem Raging Wolf popped his head out of his house to look at the commotion. Fast as Lightning jabbed him straight in the face with his war club.

Raging Wolf fell back, and Fast as Lightning followed. The Mohegan leader fell through his fire pit, overturning a spit of venison that charred over the flames. There were two women and three children in the house as well. They screamed as Fast as Lightning and his men poured in.

“Raging Wolf!” Fast as Lightning said, standing over the older man with war club held firmly for a second strike. “I have returned to avenge Good Hawk’s death. We came to you in peace, and you betrayed us. Now you will die, in front of your wife and children.”

Raging Wolf looked small and insignificant in the scattered firelight, his head bleeding profusely. He blinked through the blood and pain and held up an arm as if he were shielding his eyes from the sun. He looked small, indeed, but his words revealed no fear, no worry.

“You came to my village,” Raging Wolf said, raising up on his elbows and looking around the room. He blinked away a line of blood. “With only four warriors? You entered my home with just a few men, and you expect to kill me and escape? Where does that arrogance, that courage, come from?”

“From the Red God,” Fast as Lightning said. “The god of the Ring of Fire. It was a lie what Speaks His Mind said. He does not fill me with madness. He gives me strength and speed. He gave me the courage to come here, and it will be in his honor that I will make you pay for your crimes. All of them”

Raging Wolf nodded, looked again towards his wife, his children. “Then so be it,” he said, lying back prostrate, like the cross with Jesus that Fast as Lighting had seen hanging from a Dutchman’s neck. “Your courage should be rewarded. Strike me down, and strike fast.”

What was this? The great Raging Wolf, Sachem of the Mohegans, would not fight? Would not at least try to rise and defend himself? “Stand,” Fast as Lightning said, stepping back a pace. “We will fight each other, fairly, and I will show you the power of the Red God.”

Raging Wolf shook his bleeding head. “No. I will not fight you in my own home, in front of my wife, my children. Go ahead and do your duty, for your Red God, and for that Ring of Fire that Speaks His Mind fears so much. If what he says about it is true, then perhaps I should die, for our people will need leaders like you, like Speaks His Mind, to face it. I am old, stuck in my ways. Perhaps we need new thinkers for what awaits us in the future. So, I say again, kill me now, and be done with it.”

Fast as Lighting raised his war club to strike, but he caught the terrified face of a small boy out of the corner of his eye. Raging Wolf’s wife too had tears running down her cheek, his daughter as well. All of them could be dead in a moment. All he had to do was swing the club, and vengeance for the Red God, for Good Hawk, would be taken.

Instead, he lowered his club, held it out like a stick towards Raging Wolf’s face. “Let this be a warning, Raging Wolf. You will stop raiding our villages, stop stealing our women and children. You will do so now, or I will return and unleash the Red God upon you all, and there will not be a single Mohegan alive by the end of winter.”

He jabbed the club once again into Raging Wolf’s face, breaking his nose, and knocking him cold.

Then he fled, dropping the club and running as fast as his legs would carry him, towards the entrance to the village, and out into the cold, bitter night.

****

“I’ve failed you,” Fast as Lightning said, staring into the dying embers of the fire. “I’ve failed us all.”

Speaks His Mind shook his head, coughed. “No. You showed Raging Wolf mercy. That is more than he would have shown you.”

“Sun Rising will go to war, now, once he learns of his nephew’s death. Once he learns that Raging Wolf is still alive.”

“Perhaps. But I will advocate against it, for now. And maybe he will listen. You impressed Raging Wolf, I’m sure, with your bold raid on his village, under the favors of the Red God, and he won’t be so quick to move on any more of our villages.” Speaks His Mind chuckled. “His broken nose will remind him. Sun Rising will want vengeance, yes, but I must remind him that the Ring of Fire is real, and its people are coming. War amongst ourselves can wait. A greater war is coming from across the sea. Unity is what we need to face it.”

Fast as Lightning cringed at the young man’s warning. “With respect, I do not agree, Speaks His Mind. I do not believe that the Ring of Fire will bring war to our land. I do not know what it will bring, but something in me says that it will not bring death and desolation. The Red God comes from the future, and I have faith in Him. He does not fill me with fear. Our future may be complicated, yes, but it will not end when the up-timers come.”

Speaks His Mind paused, nodded, and adjusted himself near the fire. “I pray that you are right. One thing is certain: whatever power flows in your blood, it has given me purpose to live.”

Fast as Lightning nodded. “And me as well. I am glad to see you alive. Can you walk?”

Speaks His Mind nodded, and Fast as Lightning helped him to his feet, saying, “I will help you walk. I will take you to Sun Rising so that you may tell him of Good Hawk’s fate, and the glory that he achieved before he fell.”

“No,” Speaks His Mind said. “We will tell him together, as brothers.”

****

A Printer’s Dream

Amsterdam

September, 1633

 

Louis Elzevir noticed a shadow over his shoulder as he finished the last bit of goldwork on the exquisite, red-leather bound tome he had been laboring over for weeks. The twenty-nine-year-old journeyman had slaved over this volume; everything from the typesetting, to the printing of each page, to the bookbinding was by his own hand. Louis poured his soul into this order. It was designed to show the printers of Amsterdam that he was worthy to join their ranks. Louis wished to get married, set up his own shop, and start a family. He would need this book and many more like it to show that he was ready. Slowly, not sure who was casting the shadow, Louis turned around. The master of the shop, Willem Jansz Blaeui, was looking over Louis’ shoulder at the newly finished book. Louis stepped aside as the book was picked up for inspection. The master turned the pages carefully examining the printing on the pages, several of the illustrations, and even tested the quality of the binding by opening the book well past flat. Blaeu’s face was as inscrutable as a sphinx until he slowly and carefully set down the book and broke into a smile. “A fine work worthy of presentation to a distinguished customer, Louis. If your work continues like this, I will be happy to support your elevation to master when the time comes.”

Louis practically strutted out of the shop that day. Blaeu was old and would need someone to take over the shop within the next few years. If Louis could take over Blaeu’s business or even just a few of the more valuable contracts, like the one with the Athenaeum, his future was assured. He had come to Amsterdam only a few months before, lured by rumors of booming business and room for more masters. It was now all so close to his grasp. Louis caught the eye of a few of his fellow journeymen, and together they went to one of their favorite taverns to celebrate.

The next morning, Louis’ head ached. Too much strong beer had passed between his lips the night before and now he had to drag himself into work. Louis struggled to get ready for the day, and then staggered out of his lodgings to visit his favorite cook shop for some breakfast to help soothe his hangover. The sun was shining far too brightly for Louis’ liking and despite how pretty the day was starting out, everything seemed to pall. There were far fewer people on the streets than there should have been at this hour, and those that were on the streets were huddled in small groups. The past few days had been like this. Everyone was waiting on news of the Dutch fleet that had sailed out to meet the Spanish blockade. The Dutch fleet was unstoppable and was supported by the strong French and English fleets, but lately the world had been turned upside down by the odd new town in the Germanies. Nothing seemed to be certain anymore, including the strength of armies. An unstoppable Spanish army had been burnt to a crisp in the Wartburg, and the mighty Catholic army had suffered several defeats, including the loss of both Tilly and Wallenstein. Nothing seemed certain anymore.

Louis quickened his pace and swiftly reached the cook shop. Several of his friends were there already, looking much as Louis felt. The shop owner took one look at their table, ducked behind the counter, and pulled out an odd bluish-white box.

“Here, these are better than any other remedy I know for curing the effects of too much ale. They come from an up-time recipe using essence of willow bark and I guarantee they actually work,” the shop owner wheedled.

He then opened the box and let Louis and his friends examine the contents of the box, some odd blue pellets. After some quick dickering over price, Louis bought two of the pills and his usual breakfast order.

Louis was only halfway through his meal when an acquaintance, Karel, burst into the shop carrying some barely dry broadsheets. Karel was trembling and his face was pallid.

“Karel, what’s wrong? Here, come sit by me and calm down,” Louis said and patted the bench beside him.

“Calm down?! The Dutch fleet has been destroyed!! Haarlem has fallen! The Spanish are at the doorsteps of The Hague and we are next! How can I be calm?! Get out of Amsterdam if you can!” Karel shrieked, throwing down the broadsheets on a table. Then Karel paused, as if struck by a horrible thought, and whimpered “Mother!” before rushing out the door.

Louis sat there frozen while one of his friends went and grabbed one of the broadsheets. It only took a quick glance at the broadsheet to confirm what Karel had said. Louis leapt up from the table, ran out the door, and beat a swift path back to his lodgings, sinking onto his bed once he entered his room. What should I do? I can go to work, but if the Spanish were coming, what is the point? The Spanish burned towns and people wholesale. They’d put everyone to the sword in Amsterdam. It would be worse than Magdeburg if I stay here, death by either starvation and disease or by a sword. I have no family in Amsterdam, no reason to stay, other than my dreams of opening a shop here. At the thought of family, Louis sprang up and started gathering up his meager possessions and cramming them into a rucksack. He would be a true journeyman once more and see what Amsterdam’s fate would be.

****

 

Leiden

May, 1634

 

For almost nine months, Louis had lingered in Leiden, waiting for an opportunity to return to Amsterdam. Fortunately, his uncle and cousin had room for a journeyman in their shop, and it was interesting, for the first few months at least, to study the extensive collection of type his family owned, which covered everything from common typefaces for Latin and Greek, to exotic and rare ones like Syrian and Ethiopianii. When he wasn’t assisting his cousin Abraham with the presses, he was helping his Uncle Bonaventure in the bookshop, binding the books to get them ready for sale. It was worthwhile work that increased his already extensive skill set, but there was no room for another master in Leiden. There was not enough demand for another person to set up a shop, and all of the master printers were in fairly good health or had a different successor in mind. Based on the newspapers and the occasional letter he received from friends stuck in the city, Louis thought the siege was a truly unusual one. There was no disease in either the city or the Spanish camp, goods and money were flowing into and out of the city, and the Prince of Orange was negotiating a settlement with the Spanish prince in charge of the siege. Louis was merely waiting for word that it was safe to return.

Louis had spent a long, hard day in the important job of beater, inking the type before it was pressed. It was a task that showed off his skills as a printer, but it felt pointless to show off when there was no room for further advancement and his kinsmen did not seem to notice when Louis produced exquisite pressings over and over, did some excellent work binding every page neat and straight, or other little things which showed off his skill, while the other journeymen seemed to show half his skill and be showered with praise. However, if the ink was fat when he was the beater, a page or two crooked either in a pressing or after binding, or he got caught playing quadratsiii, he received a harsher punishment and lecture than anyone else even if they were playing quadrats with him. He was family and was expected to be the best and set a good example. Louis couldn’t wait to leave Leiden and return to Amsterdam where he would be seen as another senior journeyman, instead of “family” and held to an equal level with his peers instead of a ridiculously high standard no mortal could meet.

Finally, the long day was over. Louis and several of the other journeymen washed up and headed to their favorite tavern to grab some dinner. As soon as he entered, the publican waved him over to the bar and held out a letter. It had one of those new portraits on it to show the postage had been paid, this one in the colors of the House of Orange. It was from Karel, who had been unable to flee Amsterdam with his infirm mother and younger siblings, so he had endured the siege instead.

Full of anticipation, Louis tore open the wax seal and started reading Karel’s slightly messy scrawl. The letter began promisingly; Karel was now the master of his own shop. The printers and booksellers who had stayed behind had decided to confiscate the shops of those who had fled and sold them at market price to the available journeymen. Lucky Karel, Louis thought jealously. Then there came the crushing blow, Karel wrote, “Although you are a great printer and bookmaker worthy of a shop anywhere and I would support your elevation here in Amsterdam, the rest of the guild is not ready to admit any journeyman who fled to the rank of master. I do not know if this will change eventually. You should be able to return now if you wish, but there is not a place here for you. I have heard that Grantville and Magdeburg have plenty of opportunities for journeymen to become masters. Maybe you should try there instead. They will welcome a printer and bookmaker of your skill.”

Louis barely glanced at the rest of the letter. Karel prattled on about an up-time doctress treating his mother, the wonders of the Committee of Correspondence sanitation procedures, and other inanities. Louis’ appetite was gone. A black depression was engulfing him. Amsterdam has no place for me anymore? That blasted whoreson! I fled when you warned me in such dire terms of the looming siege. Now you’re a master and have the temerity to tell me that because I fled the siege, I am not welcome in Amsterdam? The only reason you didn’t flee was because your mother couldn’t travel fast enough to beat the Spanish army, otherwise you would have run from Amsterdam faster than I had. Curse you, Karel! Louis slumped onto a bench and tried to cure his woes with food, ale, and some ginever.

****

 

Leiden

June, 1634

 

Louis functioned in a fog. His dreams were dead. His work suffered from the black cloud surrounding him. Pages were crooked and smeared, bindings were poor, and Louis barely spoke and never smiled. Even his kinsmen seemed to be worried about him, barely chastising the sudden drop in the quality of his work and insisting Louis eat his breakfast and dinner with family instead of on his own. At each meal, he was subjected to an interrogation to find out what was wrong.

Sunday dinner at Abraham’s residence had been the worst. The entire meal was uncomfortable, with Abraham asking prodding questions like “Louis, what is wrong with you? Your work is terrible of late and you attitude is detrimental to everyone around you. Do you want to be dismissed?”

Abraham’s wife Marie made things even more painful by trying to coddle him with comments like “Now dear, don’t push Louis. I’m sure Louis will tell us if anything is wrong when he is ready. He knows he can trust us, and we will do anything in our power to help him.” Worst of all, Abraham’s family was there including his eleven-year-old cousin Jean, drinking in the whole awkward scene.

Finally, Louis blew up at them. “Someone I once called a friend just wrote to me that I’m no longer welcome in Amsterdam because I’m a coward and should try my luck in Magdeburg or Grantville! No one wants me in Amsterdam, there’s no future for me in Leiden, and I doubt there is much of a market for scholarly books in either Grantville or Magdeburg!” Louis pushed himself back from the table, stormed out of the dining room, slammed the door behind him. He stomped back to his meager lodgings. He and Abraham had barely spoken even when Louis worked in the print shop, but he was sure that Abraham had informed Bonaventure about Louis’ words and behavior and that the pair were planning to dismiss him.

Louis was working for Bonaventure binding books. He tended to make fewer mistakes at this particular art. The day was bright and sunny, which felt like it was mocking him. He had been hard at work for a few hours when Bonaventure had strolled into the small, brightly-lit building in his typical cheerful mood. Then Abraham had stormed into the shop bellowing about dirty thieves and worthless kinsmen, before Bonaventure had steered him into the office to calm him down. Louis expected that he was in for a tongue-lashing at the least and would probably be dismissed from the shop. He probably deserved it. I’m useless. Everyone knows I cowardly fled, and no one wants me in Amsterdam. Karel suggested I go to Grantville or Magdeburg, but neither has a university, and I doubt there is room for a bookseller and printer with a scholarly bent. My kinsmen are surely going to dismiss me, and I have no idea of where to go to next, Louis thought dejectedly.

After what had seemed to be an eternity, his uncle and cousin staggered from the office in a better mood, but it was unclear if that was due to a productive discussion, or the relief one usually felt after making a difficult decision. Louis felt his stomach fall to the floor when his cousin looked at him, extended an accusatory finger and said, “Louis, we have business to discuss.” Feeling the heat of the stares of everyone else in the shop on his back, Louis slumped into the office, struggling to look nonchalant about the expected dismissal.

As soon as he entered the office, Louis took note of the drained ginever bottles on the desk. It wasn’t normal for his kinsmen to resort to liquid courage. That was usually for mourning or celebration. To his surprise, Uncle Bonaventure gestured for him to sit down, instead of keeping him standing for a dressing-down. Feeling a touch apprehensive, Louis sat down in one of the comfortable chairs that were usually reserved for clientele and looked across the room at his uncle and cousin. Everything felt off, and Louis did not trust the smiles on the faces of his uncle and cousin.

His uncle took a breath, seemingly to gather his thoughts, and began. “Louis, we know that you are upset about Amsterdam and have been trying to decide what to do next, and we have a little proposal for you. We think it would be smart for you to go to Jena to study up-time printing and publishing methods. At the Frankfurt fair, the customers only wanted up-time books. Those printers using new methods from Grantville had more copies of many different books than we could produce in five years to sell and were doing a brisk trade. We know you would like to be near a university. The one in Jena has a great reputation, and the printers there have been acquiring those new methods. With these skills, you should be able to set up a shop wherever you like.”

Louis breathed out deeply as he digested his uncle’s words. To give up on my dream of Amsterdam will make it official I am a failure, or will I be a failure if I just cling to my dashed dream and give up on my future? Abraham cleared his throat, looked at him and said, “If you do choose to go to Jena, there is a favor I would like to ask of you. I would like you to escort Jean to Jena to begin his apprenticeship at one of the printing or publishing houses there to learn both traditional and up-time printing methods. While you are in Jena I would appreciate it if you kept an eye on Jean and ensured that his apprenticeship and education are suitable for when he takes his place here.”

Louis fought the urge to sigh. The request was one he should have expected. As a senior journeyman of almost thirty and family, Louis was the perfect person for the job of escorting Jean to find an apprenticeship. Jean was family, and Louis loved him as a kinsman, but Jean was trying at the best of times. The boy was smart, but he was already gaining a reputation for being enthusiastic, yet inconsistent. Little things like starting to sweep a floor to impress people and then getting distracted partway through, building a grand model ship to impress his uncle, Isaac, and stopping midway through, and heaps of other partially complete tasks and chores. Jean tended to dream big but then would not put in the work to make his dreams bear fruit. It was a tendency that he would hopefully grow out of or get beaten out of him by the right master. Louis could also guess that when Uncle Bonaventure’s eldest son Daniel was ready, Louis would be asked to find an apprenticeship for him, too. But as much as he didn’t like it, it appeared the best way forward would be to forget Amsterdam and forge a new path. So off to Jena he would go. At least it had a nice proper university so he could print for the scholarly Latin trade, although he wasn’t sure if there would be room for him to become a master.

After ten days of preparation, Louis and Jean set off for Jena, bearing letters of introduction to the master printers there. Uncle Bonaventure also included a letter to Dr. Green and the Bibelgesellschaft in order to start a dialogue with a potential new client, since they had been so kind to write him about the wonderful Bibles that sadly didn’t sell well.

****

 

Near Arnheim

July, 1634

 

Five days, only five days on the road, and Jean would not stop whining about how his feet were aching. True, Jean had never traveled so far in his life, but Louis was on his last nerve. Even being kind to Jean and carrying both of their rucksacks for a while didn’t alleviate the complaints. Then as they came around a bend in the road, he spied a welcome sight, a slightly ramshackle inn where they could stop for a greatly needed midday meal. Sitting down and eating would hopefully stall Jean’s complaints for a little while. The boy really needed to develop some stamina, endurance, and forbearance in Louis’ opinion. Once he was apprenticed, Jean would have all of the worst jobs in the shop. Constant complaining would win him no friends. It was best if he were broken of the habit as soon as possible. But now it was time to get some food. They could venture on, but it would likely be another hour at least before there was another coaching inn, and Louis’ stomach was rumbling. Louis started to enter the coaching inn, took one look at the dim, dank interior of the inn and instead steered Jean to a table beneath a large oak tree. Then Louis ventured inside the inn to order two steins of small beer and food for two. First came the two small beers, some bowls of stew with a bit of crusty bread, then there was a platter of stinky, runny cheese and sausage. Louis gave Jean a stern look and said, as gravely as he could, “Jean, eat the stew and bread. Don’t eat the cheese and sausage.”

Jean rolled his eyes at Louis and had the nerve to say, “But Louis, they both look tasty. I love cheese.” Then Jean grabbed a few pieces before Louis could push the platter out of Jean’s reach, and swiftly plopped them in his mouth. “Mmm, this is really good. Louis you should try some.” Louis just fought the urge to sigh and pushed the platter away so Jean couldn’t grab more. Hopefully, Jean wouldn’t learn why Louis had avoided the platter.

Sadly, not long after they reached another coaching inn to stop for the night, Jean learned why Louis had told him not to eat the platter of cheese and sausage. They had barely entered the inn and sat down to supper when Jean broke out in sweat and his face blanched. Instead of a nice supper followed by chatting with their fellow travelers to pick up the latest news and gossip, Jean spent the evening in their room groaning over a chamber pot. The next morning, Jean was still pale and ate only bread with a bit of broth. They made very slow progress for the next two days until Jean recovered from his self-inflicted illness. After that, Jean only ate what Louis indicated was okay.

****

 

Jena

July, 1634

 

Finally, the pair reached Jena. Jean had learned to stop complaining around ten days into their journey, thank goodness, but that didn’t stop Jean’s constant questions about everything. Louis found lodgings at an inn that wasn’t too expensive but looked reasonably clean. Then he and Jean rifled through their packs to find a precious parcel. Within were letters sealed with wax. “Louis, what are those? Why do we need them now?” Jean asked.

Louis patiently answered, “Jean, these are letters of introduction your father and Uncle Bonaventure wrote for us. It will be hard to find a master willing to take you without a proper letter of introduction. I need them as well to help prove my status and skills. The masters of Jena will want to know who we are and where we come from. Let’s grab a quick meal and then go meet the printers here. I think Uncle Bonaventure recommended we visit Ernst Steinmanniv first.” So, after some lunch to recover from their travels, they set out towards Steinmann’s shop.

Ernst Steinmann had a large print shop from his father.  It was located right near several of the University of Jena’s important buildings, as befitted a notable shop. The shop reminded Louis of the shop founded by his grandfather in Leiden. With some trepidation, Louis entered with Jean trailing behind. The Elzevir name wasn’t a bad one in printing and bookselling, and hopefully, Steinmann wouldn’t mind taking on the Elzevir boys in exchange for apprenticeships and journeymen berths for his own kin with the Elzevirs in Leiden. The familiar scents of paper and ink filled the air. It was noisy and bustling. There were only the slightest of glances at the two strangers in the shop. Everyone seemed to be very intent on the task at hand or at the drama occurring at the far end of the shop near some boxes of type. A well-dressed, dark-haired man who looked only a few years older than Louis was loudly rebuking a sandy-haired man Louis’ age while waving around a printed page and gesturing at several more. Finding a man slightly older than him who appeared to be supervising, or simply watching the work going on all around him, Louis asked where Meister Steinmann could be found. A finger pointed at the well-dressed man.

Louis hesitated, debating what to do. Jean looked slightly scared and anxiously tugged on his cousin’s sleeve. It would have been better to wait until Steinmann was in a better mood, but there was only so much money in the purse Abraham and Bonaventure had given them for the journey. They needed to find a willing master or masters quickly. Taking a quick breath to brace himself and bringing his courage to bear, Louis and Jean approached the man identified as Steinmann. As they approached, they heard, “Just because up-timers will accept a blurry, crooked page does not excuse printing one. The scholars of Jena and Europe demand better, and so do I. If you want to continue printing sloppily and rushed, you are dismissed from this shop.” Steinmann whirled around to face Louis and Jean as soon as he noticed them. “Who are you and what do you want?” Steinmann barked.

Louis bowed slightly and then held out the letters from Uncle Bonaventure and Abraham. “How do you do, Meister Steinmann, I presume? My name is Louis Elzevir, and this is my cousin Jean Elzevir. We are seeking a master printer to work under. I am a senior journeyman, and my cousin is seeking to begin an apprenticeship. The Meister Elzevir speak highly of your skill and knowledge.” Louis barely kept a nervous tremor out of his voice and thankfully, his hands were not shaking. Jean, however, was trembling like a leaf.

Ernst Steinmann inspected Louis and Jean, with the glare softening. “I see Bonaventure has not lost his good taste. I run a select shop and work heavily with the scholars of the University of Jena. I am looking for a new journeyman at the moment, and I am always open to taking on an apprentice.” Steinmann glared at the sandy-haired youth, who turned beet-red. “Let’s discuss this more in my office, shall we?” Steinmann motioned for the pair to follow him to a door on the furthest wall.

Once inside, Louis glanced at their surroundings. In the office, there was a small desk that was well-organized with one tidy stack of papers and another of books. On the walls on either side of the desk were bookshelves lined with volumes, the cloth of the binding and the gilding still bright. Behind the desk, there were two small windows covered with oilcloth. In one corner opposite the desk, there were several well-constructed wooden chairs. In the other, there was a small stack of ornate cushions. After Steinmann closed the door behind them and gestured for the pair to bring over and take a seat on the chairs, Jean started to move towards the cushions, but Louis stopped him. Those cushions would only be added to the chairs for the comfort of important clientele, not for the likes of Louis and Jean. It was a kind gesture that they were allowed to sit in the first place, instead of stand.

Once Louis and Jean were seated, Steinmann began peppering Louis with questions designed to confirm his skill level and technical knowledge. Once Steinmann was certain what the pair already knew of the arts of printing and bookmaking, the important question was asked, “What is it you are looking to learn? I have a host of skills and techniques I am willing to teach each of you, but I find it useful to start with what you are interested in learning.”

Taking a moment to gather his thoughts and quickly nudge Jean to warn him to keep quiet when he started to open his mouth, Louis began, “We are looking for a few things. One is to learn or expand our knowledge of traditional techniques. The other is to learn up-time techniques.” Louis didn’t bother mentioning becoming the master of his own shop. Steinmann was only a little older than Louis and had only a few years before inherited it from his father. This was not a shop Louis could take over.

Steinmann snorted at the mention of up-time techniques. “Do you want to be like my journeyman who just ruined a folio of paper? The current methods coming out of Grantville are slovenly and slothful. The only benefit is speed, while the results are smeared and crooked. I pride myself on the quality of my publishing. I will not accept anything that messy. Many of the books that came from up-time are splendidly printed, but the new techniques are wretched. If you wish to understand what I mean, go visit Barbara Weidnerv, Johann’s widow, and her second husband Christoph Kuche. I will be glad to train you both if you put aside this foolishness.”

After a few more minutes of idle chatter, both Louis and Jean thanked Meister Steinmann for his time, requested a few days to mull the decision over, and headed back out onto the streets of Jena. Steinmann would not be suitable if they wished to learn up-time printing techniques, and his family’s instructions were to find someone or someones to train Jean in the new methods. Steinmann’s offer was also of little use to Louis. Louis was looking to become a master, and there would be no room for advancement in Steinmann’s shop.

So Louis decided to visit the shop Steinmann had mentioned, that of Barbara Weidner and her second husband, Christoph Kuche. Although Christoph Kuche was the master of the shop, it was owned by Barbara Weidner, who would have been a master printer if she were a man. The shop was a fairly small one and situated not as close to the university itself. However, it appeared to be quite well-built and well-maintained. After entering the building, Louis was surprised by how quiet and still it was. Most print shops were filled with the sound of the presses in operation and the small clinks as the type were set in a page. Instead, there was an odd rat-a-tat-tat sound coupled with a chime, plus odd rubbing sounds. No one was standing near the press, and all attention was on a contraption with what appeared to be cylinders on it and some trays. One person was feeding in paper and watching the trays while another cranked the handle on the large machine. At another station was a small device with a sheet of paper jutting out of it that was unlike anything Louis had ever seen. It had large coins on sticks that someone was pressing down and was the source of the odd rat-a-tat-tat and chime. A third station had someone with a razor blade carefully cutting out letters. The final station had someone coating pages with wax. Hovering over it all was a respectably dressed medium-sized woman with gray hair streaked with chestnut. “Is this a printer’s shop or have we come to the wrong place?” Louis wondered aloud. Jean looked dumbfounded next to him.

The woman turned around when she heard Louis speak. “This is indeed a print shop, a very modern one. Are you looking to publish something? We can produce large runs of pamphlets and broadsheets quickly and at a reasonable rate.”

“My name is Louis Elzevir and this is my cousin Jean Elzevir.” Louis gestured to his cousin next to him. “We are looking for a master printer to work under. I am a senior journeyman and Jean would like to begin his apprenticeship.” Once again, Louis held out the letters of recommendation that Uncle Bonaventure addressed to Meister Christoph Kuche and Barbara Weidner.

Barbara Weidner nodded to the pair and took the letters. She called over to the sallow-faced youth who was working at the cutting station. “Hans, can you go and fetch Meister Kuche? I believe he is at a meeting in the tavern down the street.” As Hans went off to fetch the master of the shop, its mistress turned her focus back towards the pair of Elzevirs before her. “Let me show you around the shop. I doubt you have seen anything like it in Leiden.”

First, she took them over to the large contraption with rollers and trays. “This is a Vignelli duplicator. From one waxed paper stencil, we can produce 50 copies, and when we make a waxed silk stencil for a really large order, we can produce 500 copies.” She held up a piece of paper. Some letters were cut out of the top, while the rest of the page felt like it had been forcefully impressed. The whole page was lightly coated with wax. Then she ran the stencil through the duplicator and held out to Louis the resulting printed page. She then repeated the process, using the same stencil. Again, the resulting printed page was of very low quality, but it was produced far faster than Louis had heard of anyone doing so by a printing press. The shop only had a few people on hand to make stencils and operate the duplicator and typewriter, far fewer than his family needed to operate a press or set type, but was producing far more sheets than his family could produce in a week. Now some of Ernst Steinmann’s complaints about up-time printing became as clear as crystal.

Next, he was shown how the stencil was made, but Louis barely paid attention to the explanation. The only piece of information he caught was that the odd small contraption with coins on sticks and paper sticking out of it was apparently called a typewriter, and it was used to create the text of the stencil. Barbara Weidner steered the pair through the other stations, but while Jean was reacting enthusiastically to each novelty, Louis was deep in thought, weighing these new methods. So fast, but Uncle Bonaventure and Abraham would dismiss any journeyman who produced a page of such low quality and severely reprimand an apprentice. None of the people who buy our family’s books would want a book printed this wretchedly. Maybe a broadsheet or a pamphlet, but we focus on books, and I want to make and sell books. However, these were up-time methods, and he had been told it was important to learn up-time methods as well as find Jean a place to be trained in both up-time and traditional methods. He was starting to feel a touch of despair. Are all up-time printing methods like this? Just speed and sloppiness?! It might be what he was directed to learn, but it wasn’t making Louis happy. Then a thought crossed his mind as he looked at the unused press.

“Do you still use your printing press, or are you planning to sell it?” Louis asked hopefully. Presses were expensive, and it was always worthwhile to acquire one when you could. His own family had entered the bookselling business without presses, subcontracting to printers to produce the books they sold until his cousin Isaac had used his wife’s dowry to buy some presses. Louis had dreamed of owning his own press when he finally set up his own shop, but would subcontract if he had to.

“No. We have no plans to sell the press. We still use it a few times a week to make stencils for larger runs,” a deep voice replied behind Louis. Louis swiftly turned around. Christoph Kuche had arrived at last. He was a heavy-set man with strawberry-blonde hair who appeared to be slightly younger than his wife. “I see my wife has been giving you the grand tour. Follow me, and we can discuss matters.”

Louis and Jean followed Christoph Kuche into a small office, and Kuche took a seat in one of the two chairs behind a long, low table. Barbara Weidner entered behind them and took a seat at the table next to her husband, giving him a small smile as she did so. Louis and Jean remained standing across the table from them. The table itself was covered in messy piles of documents. Throughout the whole office, there were piles of paper everywhere. There was likely some sort of order to the chaos, but Louis couldn’t see it. As Louis looked around Kuche, glanced at the letters his wife handed to him. “So what brings you all the way from Leiden?” Christoph Kuche asked.

“Abraham and Bonaventure Elzevir requested that I escort Abraham’s son Jean to Jena to find a place for an apprenticeship and learn up-time printing methods in addition to the traditional ones,” Louis said and gestured towards his cousin. Jean visibly brightened at the mention of his name and nodded enthusiastically. “I am a senior journeyman, and I also wish to learn up-time printing methods that I hope to eventually use in my own shop.” Louis finished.

Christoph Kuche rubbed his chin thoughtfully while his wife bit her knuckle. Then, after exchanging a quick glance with his wife, Kuche said, “We would be happy to take on Jean as an apprentice, but we do not have the funds for a journeyman at this time. The duplicator and typewriter were rather expensive, but are proving quite profitable. We are doing a brisk business in pamphlets and broadsheets. Maybe in a few months, we could afford another journeyman. However, we rarely use the old-fashioned methods here. Jean would have to go elsewhere to learn those ancient arts if he wished to do so, although I can’t imagine why. This is the way of the future. If you forget this nonsense of learning the traditional methods, Jean has a place here.”

Then Barbara Weidner chimed in. “Have you met with Blasius Lobensteinvi yet? He uses a mix of the old-fashioned methods and some new ones from Grantville. My son, Johann Christoph,vii could not stop talking about the techniques they have been using in the shop when he came home last weekend. He’s a senior journeyman working for Lobenstein. I think you would like him; he is a good boy. He’s ready for his own shop and has his heart set on inheriting this one.” Louis fought the urge to sigh. Even if Barbara Weidner’s shop had room for a journeyman, this was not a shop where he could become a master. Her son had the first claim.

Christoph Kuche nodded and said, “Yes, you two should go see Lobenstein. His methods are likely to be more suitable to your purpose. He has one foot in the past and one in the present. Don’t bother with Steinmann, the old stick in the mud. Steinmann simply refuses to move with the times and grows crankier every day as he loses money.” This was news to Louis, as Steinmann seemed to be quite busy, but then he remembered the dismissed journeyman. Louis was looking for a place he could settle in and being summarily dismissed would ruin that. The couple then stood up and escorted the pair to the door. As Louis and Jean were about to leave, Barbara Weidner held out a small package, asked them to take it to her son, and gave them directions to the shop.

Fortunately, Abraham and Bonaventure had included a letter of introduction to Blasius Lobenstein and, intrigued, the pair set off towards his shop. This was a bit of a trek because Lobenstein’s shop was located near some university buildings on the opposite side of town from Steinmann’s and Barbara Weidner’s. The building seemed to be quaking as they approached it, something Louis had only seen when Abraham was in the process of printing the pages for a large run of books. The press was clearly in use, a good sign for it indicated a busy shop. As Louis and Jean entered, Louis noticed a young man about his age with chestnut hair like Barbara Weidner’s who was peeling something that looked like papier-mâché off of a page of type. The man put the mold on a drying rack and then turned to address the pair of visitors, “Hello, what brings you here?”

Louis then introduced himself with, “I am Louis Elzevir and this is my cousin Jean Elzevir. We are looking for Blasius Lobenstein. We also have a parcel for Johann Christoph Weidner from his mother.” Louis showed it to the young man.

The young man blushed. “I see you have already stopped by the shop my mother runs. She loves acting as if I am a boy just beginning my apprenticeship instead of a man ready to become the master of his father’s shop.” He then grabbed the parcel Louis was holding out.

Louis nodded sympathetically. “My uncle and cousin sometimes treat me similarly. They see a young child instead of a senior journeyman. However, do you know where we can find Meister Lobenstein?”

Then Jean rudely butted in. “Why are you making a papier-mâché mold of a whole page of type? If you are making new type, isn’t it best to mold one piece at a time?” Louis shot a glare at Jean, who had been warned repeatedly to keep his mouth shut and let Louis do all the talking. Johann Christoph smiled at Jean indulgently.

“It’s a new technique Meister Lobenstein picked up from a recent trip to Grantville. I like it a lot,” Johann Christoph gushed. “Mother’s techniques are only good for broadsheets and pamphlets. This stereotype printing is good for everything and produces a cleaner page more consistently than handset type. I was making one of the molds—they’re called flongs by the up-timers. From that, I can make a stereotype, a solid plate of a page.” Johann Christoph showed them a very thin lead sheet that was the page of a book, complete with illustrations. He led them to a stack of papier-mâché molds. “The flongs are lightweight and easily stored and shipped. You do not have to store the type for a page when you think there will be large demand or do a potentially error-laden second run if a book is more popular than expected. We can do large runs of books on demand or make flongs and ship them to other printers, and they can ship them to us. We could publish the same book jointly in Leiden and Jena for both universities. Every student can have the exact same books for their classes instead of waiting in line to read books in the library.”

Then Johann Christoph showed them a stack of pages printed from a stereotype plate and let Louis examine one of the pages. It’s not as good as the best works of my uncle and cousin and Steinmann, but it is on par with our average books. Most of our customers would be pleased by a book of this quality. It is certainly better than what Barbara Weidner was printing. He then rifled through the stack of pages, making sure they were the same as the page he was looking at. So many pages and all are of equal quality. I could never produce this many acceptable pages from one typeset page. The later pressings inevitably becoming messy as the type shifts in the press with each strike.

“Do you still print in a traditional manner, or just this new way?” Louis asked. “I know Jean will need to learn both sets of techniques.” He knew that this method would interest his family but his uncle and cousin would not want to completely abandon the traditional printing methods, given the demands of some of their higher-end clientele for books of the finest quality. The scholars and students of Leiden and the rest of their usual clientele, however, would love the cheaper books. This method also intrigued Louis. There was a fortune to be made printing this way, and it would be a useful technique to know.

“We often do a few presses the traditional way before we make a flong,” Johann Christoph quickly answered. “That way we can proofread the page and make sure it is perfect before the flong is made. We also will make a presentation version for the right book. Then we make the flong and then the stereotype plate and print the rest from the stereotype plate. We can print a lot of books that way, as well as pamphlets and broadsheets.”

To Louis, this sounded exactly like what he had been looking for. The shop has an interesting technique I actually want to learn and could teach Jean the traditional printing methods and an interesting up-time method. With this method, I and the rest of my family will take the book trade by storm. However, life had made a cynic of him. There has to be a fly in the ointment, he thought. I could not have possibly stumbled into a shop that would teach me what I need to finally be back on the path to becoming a master. This seems too good to be true. He fixed his gaze on the drying pages again, trying to see what flaws or problems there could be.

“Indeed we can,” a tenor voice behind the trio admiring the drying pages chimed in. All three quickly whirled around. A blond-haired gentleman with a beard and mustache in the Dutch fashion and clothes that looked quite odd to Louis had snuck up beside them. He smiled at the trio in front of him and said, “I am Blasius Lobenstein. Whose ears are you talking off, Weidner?”

Louis launched into a familiar spiel, “I am Louis Elzevir and this is my cousin Jean Elzevir. I have been sent by my uncle, Bonaventure Elzevir, and my cousin, Jean’s father Abraham Elzevir, to find a suitable master to oversee Jean’s apprenticeship. I am a journeyman and also looking for a master to work under.” Yet again, he held out the letters of introduction from Abraham and Bonaventure.

Meister Lobenstein took a deep breath and scrutinized the pair before him. “Hmm, Elzevir. I have noticed your name and mark on many interesting books and journals in Grantville. I expect your family is interested in up-time printing methods and books to sell, with a focus on those already bearing your mark, correct?” Lobenstein said in a faraway voice.

Louis paused, knowing he had to navigate some difficult waters, and chose his next words carefully. “Yes, we would like to learn up-time printing methods and of course are seeking books that would be of interest to our usual customers to print. We seek what you seek, too, and would be happy to partner with you. There are enough books there for all the printers in Europe.” He wasn’t sure what stance his uncle and cousin wished to take on the books from the future. From what he heard his cousin shout to his uncle, the family had no legal claim, but it would be good to be perceived as having the first claim on the rights to reprint the new knowledge bearing their mark. He hoped his words were enough to assuage Lobenstein. He did not want to ruin this opportunity.

Lobenstein pursed his lips, clearly weighing Louis’ words carefully, and pulled his hands out of the pockets in his odd blue pantaloons and thrust them behind his back and rocked slightly on his heels carefully debating what to do with the pair of Elzevirs before him. Then he glanced at Jean fidgeting next to Louis, and his face softened. “Indeed there are, and the same book can be printed in both Jena and Leiden for the respective universities.” Lobenstein then gestured for the pair to follow and headed towards a long table on the other side of the building near a window and a bookcase. Weidner went back to work making a flong.

The table itself was stacked with papers and a few books, as well as quills, a penknife, and several inkwells. The nearby bookcase was filled with more volumes. Around the table were several well-constructed wooden chairs, one of which was well-worn with a prime view of the entire shop. Meister Lobenstein took a seat in that chair and gestured for Louis and Jean to sit opposite. Lobenstein peppered Louis and Jean with questions to ascertain their skill levels and appeared slightly pleased when Louis admitted that he was trained in bookbinding as well as printing. Then they reached the heart of the matter, whether Meister Lobenstein would be able to take them. “I will admit that I am looking for another journeyman and would be open to bringing on an apprentice,” Lobenstein said in a slow, even tone. “I have been working on acquiring a shop within the Ring of Fire in Deborah to gain better access to the many up-time books, visiting scholars, and to have the freedom to print whatever I wish without the oversight of the University of Jena. The up-timers do not have any guilds and there is a high demand for more printers. You could build yourself a shop there whenever you want, all you need is the money to do so.”

Louis couldn’t suppress his expression of surprise at Lobenstein’s words. Print whatever you want? Even in Leiden, we were subject to censorship and the usually benevolent oversight of the university. Uncle Bonaventure would think he had died and gone to heaven if we could print anything, no matter how controversial. Usually we had to resort to a fake name or other trick. No guilds, no more hoops to jump through before becoming a master? Louis was sure his work was worthy of a master printer, all that had been delaying him was obtaining residency and building or inheriting a shop. This was bizarre and unheard of. It had to be false.

Acknowledging the surprise on Louis’ face, Lobenstein nodded and continued. “I plan on sending Johann Christoph and a few other journeymen to oversee it and I will travel back and forth between the shops. The new shop in Deborah will focus on stereotype printing while I will continue to do a mix of letterpress and stereotype printing here in Jena. I hope to be able to sell not just books but flongs as well. I should be able to maintain a suitable level of training at both locations but if it becomes a problem I plan on simply moving my business there and selling this shop to young Weidner or one of my other senior journeymen, if Weidner insists on waiting to inherit his father’s shop.”

Louis mused on this. It is possible to take over Lobenstein’s shop here in Jena, and there is enough demand that I could build my own shop within the Ring of Fire if I chose to do so? This is what I have been waiting to hear, but what about the scholarly trade? Is it worthwhile to become a master but not run the sort of shop I always expected to? Then Louis asked the question that had been nagging his thoughts, the reason he had chosen to come to Jena instead of going straight to Grantville, “Will you be able to keep the scholarly trade if you move fully to Deborah? The up-timers do not have a university. What happens once all their books have been copied?”

Lobenstein snorted, “I doubt that their library will be exhausted in our lifetime. The number of books there is astounding. True, there is no university, but the akademie they call a high school is viewed by many around here as equal or superior to any university. Scholars flock to it and their library. I am opening a shop in Deborah to be closer to that trade.”

Louis barely suppressed a broad smile and nodded at this and asked, “Would you wish for Jean and I to work here in Jena or in Deborah? I would like to work in both Deborah and Jena, but Jean should be trained in both styles of printing here in Jena.” Jean, who had been alternating between fidgeting in his chair and staring off into the distance, looked slightly crestfallen and apprehensive. Louis could guess what Jean was thinking. Even in Leiden, stories were being told about the wonders of Grantville. It would be a shame to be so close to them, yet not make the trip. It was likely also slightly troubling to Jean that he might be separated from the comforting presence of Louis, but he would be lucky to have his cousin still relatively close. For Louis, the option of taking over Lobenstein’s shop in Jena was a pleasant one, but he wanted to have access to the up-time books within the Ring of Fire, the potential to be free to print anything, and to set up his own shop as soon as he had sufficient funds. His uncle and cousin would also be pleased if Louis could find up-time books in his spare time to copy and send to Leiden. The bonuses he’d receive would ensure he could set up the shop of his dreams very soon.

Lobenstein rocked slightly in his chair as he considered the problem. “Jean should be trained here in Jena, maybe with the occasional trip to Deborah and Grantville.” Louis glanced at Jean who was smiling so broadly his head might split in two. Lobenstein then took a deep breath and said, “Louis, it would be best if you spend a month or two here in Jena learning how to do stereotype printing, and then split your time between Jena and Deborah, maybe spending a fortnight or a month in Jena, then another in Deborah. While an additional journeyman printer will be useful here in Jena, your bookbinding skills are needed at both locations.” Louis nodded at this feeling quite pleased at the offer, and Jean looked relieved too, safe in the knowledge that he would be seeing Louis frequently.

Louis, struggling to suppress the joy and butterflies in his stomach, said, “Meister Lobenstein, my cousin and I would be honored to work for you.” After a little negotiating on Louis’ salary and Jean’s apprenticeship fee, Louis Elzevir and Blasius Lobenstein shook hands to seal their agreement, and Louis signed the apprenticeship contract for Jean on the behalf of Abraham and his own employment contract. He had succeeded in the task his family had set for him, and he was sure this stereotype printing would be of great benefit to himself and his family. His dream of setting up his own shop was so close he could taste it. Finally, after all of the setbacks he had suffered the previous year after fleeing Amsterdam, his plans for his future were back on course. The future was finally something to look forward to again. Now I just need to earn enough money to set up a shop. How hard could that be?

****

 i   http://viaf.org/viaf/61587424/

 

ii   https://tinyurl.com/m4op983

 

iii   http://www.environmentalhistory.org/revcomm/features/life-in-a-print-shop/

 

iv   https://thesaurus.cerl.org/record/cnp00526145

 

v   https://archive.thulb.uni-jena.de/ufb/receive/ufb_person_00001013

 

vi   http://www.worldcat.org/identities/lccn-no2005-75671/

 

vii   https://tinyurl.com/kjgpxql

 

Chafing

Drahuta Residence, Bamberg, USE

 

Julie always entered her residence with a certain suspicion.

From a husband who enjoyed wearing his cavalry armor to the dinner table to a house that could, sometimes at the same time, hold the world’s greatest mathematician and a worldwide sensation who was currently on medication for that, the Drahuta household was nothing like it would have been had she remained in the year 2000 and not been tossed into the seventeenth century.

The blatant stench of garlic was only a warning—and a vague, confusing one at that.

“Logan made pizza?” Julie asked her ebullient daughter as she bounded into the entranceway which had seen its share of minor drama and arterial blood flow.

“Why does everyone assume that she made the pizza?” Karla demanded, pouting a well-used and experienced lip out before her.

“Because I don’t smell smoke and burning.”

“I got the oven to the right temperature, Ma! If it was a frozen pizza and I had the oven at our real home in Grantville, there would be no fire.”

“There was that time you forgot to take the pizza out of the cardboard box . . .”

“When will people stop reminding me of that?”

“When the last person who remembers it, in this century, dies.”

“I don’t want you to die, Ma.”

“That would not have been the conclusion someone would have jumped to if they had seen the kitchen. What in the name of heaven led you to believe threading a garden hose through the window, while it was on, was a good thing to do. Couldn’t you have opened the window?”

“There was fire, Ma. You don’t think during a fire. You do. I busted a hole for the hose with a cheap garden gnome, and Dad hated them anyway.”

“I know there was a fire. I was there when the insurance adjuster was making notes on her clipboard. The water damage was more expensive than the smoke and fire damage. I didn’t think the fire department put that much water in my kitchen.”

“You and Dad got a new stove out of it.”

“Did you have to spray every electrical outlet?”

“There was smoke coming out of that one and . . .”

“Let’s just focus on the pizza Logan made and leave it at that. I believe the saying is, leave sleeping dogs alone.”

“She’s in her room, crying.”

“Okay, Karla, that was important information. Why is she crying?”

“She’s sitting on her bed staring at her airplane poster.”

That meant her poster of current aircraft, current for the year 2000 from whence Grantville and she had come.

“But I think it’s Blaise . . . apparently he’s got a new girlfriend. She thinks she’s losing him.”

“Oh Lord . . .”

And, true to form, speak or even think of the devil and he appears.

“Greetings all!” Blaise Pascal announced, pushing his way into the entranceway and coming to all the wrong conclusions. “I think I have found the perfect carpet to replace this one. That blood stain causes too many questions. My eyes are unnaturally directed to it and my sister, Gilberte, never fails to remind me if it seems I forget. She says she will not buy carpeting until she is sure I will not routinely bleed all over her house.”

“Blaise . . .”

“It smells like Logan made pizza!” Blaise patted his stomach. “She makes good pizza!”

“Blaise . . .”

“It is hard to find just the right circular rug. I am sorry about the blood stain, Madame Drahuta,” Blaise Pascal stated solemnly.

“Blaise! Forget the blood stain!”

“How do I do that? Everyone is always reminding me. I want to do something to make amends. I am told there is little that can be done about the damage to the wall but I replaced the little table you liked.”

“Blaise, Logan is upstairs, crying . . .”

Blaise flinched and looked very much like a hunted animal.

“I didn’t do anything . . .” he flinched.

“Karla says you have a new girlfriend?”

“Oh, her? She’s just a really smart girl who knows her mathematics. That’s all. Really. I have done nothing inappropriate. We are well chaperoned when we are at the chalkboard. And she is German. German women do not accept ungentlemanly behavior.”

Karla’s snicker was unnerving for the sudden attention Blaise gave it.

“I would like Logan in the dining room to share supper with us, Blaise. Go up and see to it.”

“Alone? She’s crying . . . does she . . . is she . . . armed?”

“Blaise! Now!” Julie pointed in the general direction of the staircase. She remembered Logan falling down that staircase in her overeagerness to get to Blaise who had cut himself and was lying in a growing puddle of his own blood, right there where the stain was.

Blaise, with all the alacrity of a well-trained regiment commanded by its strictest officer, went. Pizza, even theoretical pizza, was involved, after all.

Logan Sebastian’s bedroom, Drahuta Residence

 

Logan Sebastian sat on her bed, her eyes apparently transfixed by the large poster nailed to the wall across from her bed. The tears leaked down her cheeks slowly but with a grim determination. She barely heard the door squeak.

“Go away,” she whispered, not turning her head to look at the reason for the squeak.

“What is wrong?” She recognized his voice and her fingers clenched as if gripping something or wishing they could. She did not see his eyes fastening on one of her hands, the one visible to him.

“Madame Drahuta said you were crying and that I should get you to come down to dinner. She suggested I could not have any of your fine pizza if I did not. Gilberte refuses to leave the tried and true Parisian cuisine that mostly, it would seem, involves chicken. I think father made a vast mistake complimenting her on her chicken. Now that is all she does. I saw sausage on the pizza, did I not?”

“Oh, Blaise, go away . . .”

“What is wrong?” Blaise quickly assessed himself and the room he stood within. Logan could have weapons hidden anywhere and when she was crying and especially looking at the pictures of the aircraft that would no longer roam the skies, she ws in the mood to lash out with those weapons. He had learned to walk carefully and speak even more carefully.

“Everything is wrong . . .” she snapped.

“Karla suggested that you might be angry with me.”

“Why would anyone be angry with you, Blaise Pascal?” Logan moaned. “I am angry with myself. Are you going to stand there or sit down on my bed? I don’t have a chair to offer you.”

“French gentlemen do not ‘sit’ upon a young lady’s bed in her bedroom.”

“Blaise . . .”

“I certainly will not until I see your other hand,” he added.

Logan held up her empty hand, and Blaise collapsed onto the bed, beside her.

“Do you like her?”

“Logan, be reasonable. She knows mathematics. She looks at an equation, and she can see the solution. We do marvelous mathematics together. That is all. I am teaching her calculus. You threatened to do something vulgar with a calculus textbook if I continued to try and teach you calculus.”

“Maybe she is better for you. My mathematics is only okay . . .”

“I do not like or dislike people because of their mathematics . . . Your mathematics is more than okay. Descartes’ is okay. Don’t tell anyone that. My father is angry enough with me. Descartes will not even acknowledge my presence on the planet now.”

“Don’t forget Aristotle and Gleick.”

“I have written a long letter of apology to Descartes. Can people ever drop that? I did not say the things I said about him because of his mathematics. I was . . . annoyed by his failure to understand the applicability of mathematics. He sees mathematics as something holy and untouchable. Aristotle is dead and Gleick might as well be. Chaos . . . what was he thinking? Was he thinking?”

“It was kind of funny to watch you stare at a dripping faucet all day.”

“I am not in the mood to get into a debate about the philosophy of mathematics, Logan. Besides, I solved the mathematics of the dripping faucet, thank you very much.” Blaise snorted. “Your mother banned me from her kitchen. Her faucet was perfect!”

“Took you long enough. Look, can we not talk about mathematics? Math makes me think of aerodynamics and that makes me think of P-51 Mustangs. Now that was an airplane. I had a chance of flying in one before all this crap.”

“Good, let’s talk about eating because your pizza is getting cold or, worse, Karla is going to try and reheat it.”

“You don’t understand . . .” Logan moaned.

“Okay, I accept that. But can you at least try to help me understand?”

“When I was younger . . . I wanted to fly the jumbo jets. I took it for granted that, assuming I wasn’t blinded in some accident, with the proper training—BAM—I would be flying a 747. Then—BAM—the Ring of Fire changed everything. I remember seeing you, sitting there in the library after years of my father talking about the Great Blaise Pascal at the dinner table until Mama threw mashed potatoes at him. You made the whole Ring of Fire thing real to me. There won’t be 747s in my lifetime and the space shuttle is simply a pipe dream . . . completely out of reach as the moon was to that lunatic Jules Verne and his sending astronauts to the moon via cannon.”

“I remember that story. Can you imagine the g-forces involved? They wouldn’t need an airlock. They would need a spout to pour them out when they landed. I mean, did this Verne person know any mathematics at all? He was unaware of any of Newton’s laws, certainly.”

“This is not a math lesson, Blaise! I am distraught, not seeking a mathematical solution!”

“Sorry, Logan . . .” Blaise flinched, drawing his hands to his chest in a defensive posture. Logan almost smiled as she reached out and took one of his hands, ignoring his muttered attempt at telling her to stop. She placed his hand on her shoulder.

She had a strong shoulder, not the soft thing most girls had, Blaise thought very carefully to himself.

“I took you for granted. Just like I took it for granted that there would be 747s when I got old enough. Now you found someone who you can talk math with. Of course you like her more than you like me. She’s blonde, and you’re French.”

“You are being rude, Logan. I know for a fact that women can change the color of their hair. She’s like talking to my echo. You don’t echo, Logan. You’re like a tomato.”

Logan almost couldn’t stop herself from laughing.

“There’s always something new with you. You think you know a tomato then you come along and make it into a sauce and—BAM—pizza! Maria is conventional. She is as predictable as a linear equation. You . . . you are not a linear equation. You are a tomato. You can be salsa or tomato sauce or sauce on spaghetti or . . . why are you laughing?”

Blaise made the attempt to remove his hand from her shoulder but she lashed out and pinned it there with her hand.

“That’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever said to me. I am your tomato. I am going to remember that. I should make a poster of that. I could put it right next to that one. I am a tomato.”

“I am not romantic, Logan Sebastian! What would your father say about such a comment? No, I do not want to know.”

“I don’t want to lose you like I lost the 747.”

“And that is the most romantic thing you have said to me . . . even more romantic than when you called me a big-nosed French boy. I am proud of my nose.”

“Do you have to keep reminding me of that? That was mean.”

“My nose reminds me of the jumbo jet.”

“What’s your father going to want for a dowry?”

“Shall I ask him?”

“No! God no. Things are happening with the dirigibles. There is no time for thinking about dowries. The company is planning on more than mere courier service, and he sees beyond hot air balloons. Everything is going hydrogen, all the way. They got you figuring out free energy reactions, and he has Antonio making me look for maintenance issues and other problems concerning wear and tear. Makes sense. Ship captains of oceangoing vessels spend a lot of time worrying about ropes and sails wearing out. Kick the tires and light the fires. Balloon pilots need to know what needs to be watched, or you will fall out of the sky like anyone else up there. Look at Icarus and Daedalus. Wax? Sounds like something you would do.”

“Humans are not meant to fly. Anyone with a basic understanding of mathematics knows that. We don’t have the breast bone to support the muscles to produce the downward force to stay airborne. There, you made me say breast, twice, in your presence. What will your father say?”

“Nothing. He would be laughing right now. I know him. He thinks this is all some sort of cosmic amusement.”

Blaise flexed his fingers slightly on her shoulder. What bothered him was that she was letting him do so.

“I dislike you up in balloons because of falling. I like it even less with the idea of burning, too.”

“Don’t forget explosions.”

“You are so . . . nonchalant about this. What do you do at a few thousand feet in a burning blimp?”

“Jump?” Logan shrugged. “Antonio Sorrento is very interested in the concept of parachutes. My idea is, prevent the need to jump and save the weight. He agrees with me.”

“I would be very upset if you died,” Blaise stated carefully. Talking about death around Logan was not always predictable.

“So would I. Eventually you will get tired of me and then what?”

Blaise, with his other hand, obviously, withdrew the metal ruler from its place of honor next to his chest under his clothing.

“Mathematics is very interesting . . . as you are and will always be. See? I still have it.”

“You being upset about the possibility of me dying led to you slicing open your femoral and destroying the entranceway. I can assure you that there would be far more damage if you died and left me alive.”

“I can take care of myself . . . What?”

“There is an entranceway not far from here that says you can’t. Maybe if I were a piece of cheap furniture or a rug, I might be just a bit afraid of you but everyone else just laughs.”

“I was wounded! I am a much better swordsman than that. Why can’t people forget the entranceway? It was very embarrassing. I thought Monsieur Drahuta was a burglar . . . trying to escape through the front of the house.”

“And if he had been . . . he might have died laughing or given himself a splinter trying to clean up after you but that was all.”

Blaise made to pull his arm off her shoulder but Logan kept it there.

“I was kidding . . .” Logan frowned.

“You never take me seriously.”

“Of course I do!”

“When was the last time?”

“Now.”

“Then let’s go have some pizza. This time, I want to cut it. I have an interesting theory of chords and how you could divide a circle into three equal parts with diagonal, parallel lines . . .”

“Blaise, only you can turn a pizza into a math problem. Let’s go before you start a war with Italy over dissecting circles.”

“Actually, Italy doesn’t exist. Italy is a collection of independent states and pizza was from the city of Naples, not Italy as a whole.”

“I’ve noticed something about you. You only lecture people you care about.”

“The history of pizza only makes it taste better. Food for the stomach and the mind. Let’s go. Do you need to dry your eyes?”

“I’ll be fine . . .”

Blaise put away his kerchief. “Father wants you to make some lace for your trousseau. When he mentions that he usually smiles in a way that means he is being . . . mischievous.”

“He thinks I will smack you a good one if you ask.”

“He said you didn’t like my French cuffs. Something about a prince.”

“Prince was a famous singer, up time. He thought he was being . . . I don’t know the word . . . popular by wearing enough lace to make Liberace jealous.”

“I have looked up this man, Liberace. Some say my taste for colors reminds them of him. I do not think I am quite happy with the comparison but it makes you smile, that is well worth any minor annoyance.”

“Tell me who they are, and I’ll hit them with my mother’s lacrosse stick.”

“No, that is for me only. If you start randomly assaulting people then you might assault me. As long as you only threaten me then I can imagine it is merely a threat, and you won’t actually hit me. Gilberte already calls you a hoyden. I don’t want to have to call you a felon, too.”

“She does?”

“Mostly in her ongoing attempt to annoy me. I actually like you as a hoyden. If you hadn’t been a hoyden you wouldn’t have pushed me into the pool, and I wouldn’t have learned how to swim. And stop thinking what I see you thinking. Hoyden has nothing to do with low morals or prostitution.”

“You almost called me a loose woman because of my one-piece bathing suit.”

“I was shocked . . . I cannot be held accountable for what I say when I am shocked.”

“And I pushed you into the shallow end.”

“I was most shocked when, after all that paddling, all I had to do was stand up. I felt embarrassed after all that bellowing.”

“It was cute. I still laugh when I remember the expression on your face when you stood up.”

“It was relief that I was not going to drown.”

“So, you don’t like this Maria more than me?”

“She is very good at mathematics. Almost as good as I am but she would never push me into a pool or, I am guessing, hold pressure on a serious laceration. Like I said, she is far too linear for me.”

“Call me ‘your tomato’ again.”

“Logan,” Blaise sniffed, “I do not trust that smile. Not one bit. Shall I hug you or will that seem too . . . forward.”

“You may hug me if you wish.”

Logan tried very hard and was largely successful at not giggling as she watched Blaise try to calculate the trajectories and angles of his arms to perform the act of non-forward hugging.

Her mother was going to bust a gasket when she told her; she was Blaise Pascal’s tomato.

All of a sudden, the poster of unattainable flight did not seem so sad with Blaise Pascal, ‘the’ Blaise Pascal, trying to figure out how to properly hug her.

“Blaise! It’s a hug, not a mathematical equation.”

“Everything is a mathematical equation!” Blaise bellowed. “See? You were going to hit me, weren’t . . .” the rest was muffled as Logan showed the world’s greatest mathematician how to hug.

“Let’s go get pizza. And, yes, those were sausages but they are kosher. Shabby might be here for dinner. Never know with him.”

“Shall I be jealous of the Jew?”

“He would never call me his tomato.” Logan laughed.

“He wouldn’t dare!”

“Watch where you wave that ruler. It’s metal, and it’s sharp!”

“It’s not sharp enough to cut me.”

“Let’s see.”

“Logan! You go too far!”

“You are in a young lady’s bedroom. How much farther shall I go?”

“Was that your grandmother’s pistol I felt?”

“You rake! Feeling me up to see if I was armed.”

“Self-defense is permissible no matter where a gentleman finds himself.”

“Yes, it is!”

“Logan, put that away!”

“I have a reputation to hold onto. I work with men all day. Some of them have seen me practice with the pistol. They are impressed.”

“They are probably terrified.” Blaise muttered. Blaise leapt off her bed and stood defiantly before the door.

“Holster your pistol and let us go and find out if there is pizza left.”

“Karla knows better than to eat all the pizza.”

“If we are to be married, I do not want that poster in our bedroom, and you will not come to bed armed. Is that clear?”

Logan smiled. “Call me your tomato again.”

“Tomatoes do not have arms.”

“Like hell they don’t,” he muttered in self-defense.

“Blaise . . .”

Blaise closed his eyes and turned around. Then, with small, determined steps he imagined a condemned man making while going to his death, headed for the stairway. That he survived leaving Logan’s bedroom was proof enough of divine intervention.

“Do I really scare you that much?”

“None of the common rules apply to you, Logan Sebastian. I don’t know the boundary conditions of you. Yes, you scare me but I want to learn how not to be afraid of you, my tomato. Let us go have some pizza.”

“Right behind you.”

“No! Beside me! Nowhere else!” Blaise demanded, bending his elbow and waiting at the top of the stairs. Logan would either come and push him down the stairs or she would come and properly take his arm the way a lady should. Either way, he hoped he survived.

“The Germans have this thing called ‘bundling.’ Do the French believe in that?”

Blaise Pascal almost fell down the stairs as the word made sense to him. Logan grasped him firmly by his collar and prevented him from falling.

“My sister is correct. You are a hoyden!”

“I am a tomato!” Logan laughed as she guided him down the stairs toward pizza.

Blaise now had two things to ask his sister about; bundling and the use of the term tomato—where and when it is applied to a girl or a woman, whichever Logan was.

****

 

Between East and West

Fall, 1634

Gulf of Cadiz, Spanish Coast

 

The wind was from the southwest as the fishing boat Estrella del Este approached the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. On their right stood the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, at which the great ships of the flota, the Spanish treasure fleet, were loaded and unloaded. On their left, the crew could see the salt marshes and sand dunes of Las Marismas.

 

The Estrella was not new to the trade, its paint bright and ironwork gleaming, a puppy barking as its master took it out hunting for the first time. Nor was it an old boat, its paint flaked off, its hull patched up again and again, an old hound which wearily rose to its feet when its master called it to the door. It was middle-aged . . . not unlike its captain.

 

Captain Luis stood at the prow, his hand shading his eyes as he studied the water ahead of him. From time to time he called instructions to his son, who held the tiller. They looked much alike. Each wore a feathered red wool bonete, a brown linen shirt with a hood further covering ears and chin, and over it a sea-blue jacket tied at the waist. Below the waist they wore baggy trousers and leather shoes. While both were olive-skinned, beardless, and shorter than the other fishermen on board, the son was a bit taller than the father, and he had his mother’s eyes.

 

The fishing boat passed easily over the sandbar at the mouth. The same could not be said of the galleons of the flota. They needed the guidance of the bar pilots of Sanlucar to find the ever-shifting deep channel, and even then, each year at least one galleon ran aground.

 

Luis and his crew were done with fishing for this trip, but the same was not true of the terns and gulls that incessantly patrolled the river. The river turned north, and their boat, Estrella, turned with it. They passed a salt pan. Some hunter, human or animal, invisible to Luis, startled the flamingos that were feeding on shellfish there and they rose all at once, reminding Luis of paper kites taking to the air.

 

Their destination was their home, the little town of Coria del Rio. It was perhaps eighteen leagues upriver from Sanlucar, and less than three downriver from the great city of Seville. While only ships of not more than three hundred tons could sail as far as Seville, the city was nonetheless the hub of the Indies trade. There, on the steps of its cathedral, captains and masters recruited their crews for voyages to the Americas, to Africa, to the Levant, or even to the Spice Islands. There, too, in part of the old Moorish palace, was the Casa de Contratación de Indias, the House of Trade with the Indies, which granted licenses to ships and crew, appointed the admiral and chief pilot of the flota, collected the king’s share of the proceeds of trade, and searched the returning ships for contraband.

 

As the Estrella continued its progress upriver, Luis remained vigilant. There were many sandy shallows on the Guadalquivir, not to mention the sunken hulks of galleons that had been wrecked on those shallows; a merchant vessel drawing more than four or five codos would take a full week to travel from Sanlucar to Seville, or back. The more lightly laden Estrella could travel much faster, if the wind was fair, but even it had to worry about snags.

 

Most of the fishermen of Coria del Rio contented themselves with river catch—shrimp, or perhaps albur de estero. But Luis was more venturesome and went into the storm- and corsair-plagued waters of the Gulf of Cadiz for tuna, swordfish, and other delicacies. They kept these alive in floating fish baskets trailing the Estrella. Of course, these had to be hauled in close whenever they rounded a snag.

 

****

 

Coria del Rio

 

Luis and his crew tied up the Estrella at the little dock in Coria, and carried most of the catch to the local fish market, which was only a few yards away. There was haggling, of course, but Luis dealt with the same man every week, and they knew the steps of the dance, both lead and follow. They shook hands at last and shared a cup of cheap wine to seal the deal. It was time for Luis to head home.

 

As a boat captain, rather than a mere hand, Luis had a house of his own. It was just one story, and made of whitewashed mud-brick covered with red roof tiles, but at least it wasn’t a mere hut, or shared with other families. This being Andalusia, it was square, with a central patio, which all of the rooms opened onto. A good part of the patio was devoted to his wife’s vegetable garden, where she grew artichokes and asparagus.

 

Luis was carrying one prize specimen, a large swordfish, that he had saved for his family. His wife looked up when he came in the door of their common room.

 

“Hello, I have brought dinner home for us, and I have coin, too. Our son has gone off with his friends, so we will eat without him.”

 

She came over and hugged him, “Welcome home. I will fry that up.”

 

****

 

As she prepared their meal, Luis relaxed in his chair. The walls of their common room were adorned, like any Spanish home, with crosses and religious pictures. Only a discerning eye would notice that several of these came from far away—from Madrid, from Genoa, even from Rome and Mexico City. They were, in fact, souvenirs of his travels.

 

The village of Coria del Rio was home mostly to farmers and fishermen. Most of the farmers had never even gone as far as Seville. Most of the fishermen lived off the river, not the sea.

 

But Luis—Luis do Japon—had crossed two oceans. Two decades ago, he had gone by the name of Kinzo. He had been a samurai, a retainer of the great daimyo Date Masamune. Date Masamune had given sanctuary to the Franciscan friar Luis Sotelo. Kinzo had been one of the Date clan samurai converted by Sotelo, and had taken the Christian name “Luis” in his honor. And Sotelo had taught Luis Latin and Spanish.

 

Consequently, Luis do Japon had been chosen to be a member of the honor guard of Date Masamune’s emissary to Spain and the Pope, Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga. The Hasekura embassy arrived in Seville in October 1614, and went on to visit Madrid, Rome, and many other cities. But by the time they returned to Seville in 1616, grim news had arrived from the Far East: In January 1614, all Christian missionaries were ordered to leave the “country of the kamis and the buddhas,” and it was made illegal for a samurai to be a Christian.

 

In 1617, the news was no better, but Lord Hasekura decided that it would be better to wait in Manila, close to home, than in Seville. He sailed west, but Luis was one of six Japanese who Hasekura ordered to stay in Spain, and “behave as good Catholics.”

 

Friar Sotelo was ordered to return to New Spain. Friar Sotelo’s brother, Don Diego de Cabrera, had wine and oil warehouses in Coria del Rio so, needing to settle the six Japanese somewhere, the friar arranged lodgings for them there, where his brother could keep an eye on them.

 

De Cabrera warned them that the authorities looked with suspicion on long-term foreign residents who were not married to Spanish women, and they took the hint. Luis married, and now had a teenage son and daughter.

 

If his wife’s family had hoped that by this marriage connection, they might eventually profit from Spanish trade with Japan, those hopes had not been realized. In 1624, the Shogun banned the Spanish, because the merchants smuggled in missionaries. There was still trade between Macao and Nagasaki, but that was controlled by the Portuguese. And of course, his family would have nothing to do with the Dutch heretics.

 

Nonetheless, the marriage had prospered, and some of his wife’s relatives were now merchants in Seville, with small investments in the flota trade. And Luis visited them when he had business in the city.

 

****

 

Early 1635

Triana suburb, Seville

 

As Luis do Japon walked along La Calle Larga, the main street of the Triana district, he became conscious that something was wrong. People stopped speaking as he approached, drew away as he came nigh, stared at him as he passed. One even made a sign to avert the evil eye.

 

Like every Spanish townsman, he walked the streets armed with a sword and knife. Unlike them, he carried the two swords of his former samurai rank, the katana and the shorter wakizashi, as well as a tanto, a dagger.

 

He surreptitiously made sure that they were all loose in their scabbards, and continued on, his head turning subtly back and forth to make sure that no one was following him with ill intent.

 

A fraction of his attention went to trying to decipher the reason for the hostility, as it might tell him who to be wary of. Did the fishermen of the Triana resent the intrusion of one from Coria del Rio? If so, it was vexing; he wasn’t even here to sell fish, but rather to get supplies that were available more cheaply in Seville than anywhere else.

 

A roof tile whizzed past his head. He dove into a stall, shouldered past those standing inside, and went out the back.

 

Luis remembered that one of his wife’s brothers lived a couple of streets over, closer than the chandler that was his original destination. He went there quickly and cautiously and knocked on the door.

 

“Who is it?” came a voice.

 

“Your brother-in-law, Luis. Let me in, in the name of God.”

 

There was a pause.

 

“Hurry!” Luis demanded.

 

The door opened. Juan Cardozo scowled at him. “I hope you have not brought trouble to this door.”

 

“The longer you leave me standing out here, the more likely that is to happen,” said Luis.

 

“Well, get in here, quick!”

 

As soon as the door closed behind them, Luis told Juan what had happened, and then asked, “So what grievance do the Sevillians have against fishermen from Coria?”

 

“It has nothing to do with Coria, and everything to do with you being Japanese. You haven’t heard?”

 

“Heard what?”

 

“Word only just hit the streets, but a year ago, a horde of your people sacked Manila, and killed every Spaniard in the city. A “president’s eyes only” correo came from Veracruz to the House of Trade this past week, on an aviso that sailed the Atlantic out of season, so of course many were curious. The House of Trade must have tried to keep it secret, but well . . .” He shrugged. “‘The crew of the aviso knew all about it. So soon the wenches in the taverns and brothels also knew. By now, it is all over the Triana.”

 

“How could Japan have attacked Manila?” asked Luis. “Manila is hundreds of miles from Japan, and we don’t have siege artillery. Or a fleet.”

 

Juan issued a mirthless chuckle. “Opinion in the taverns is divided as to whether the Japanese were transported there by the Dutch or by demons out of Hell.”

 

“Fuck!” said Luis. “So, when I walk outside, as soon as anyone sees my eyes . . .” As a full-blooded Japanese, his eyes had the characteristic epicanthic fold.

 

“Yes, you have a problem. If you were a medieval knight, you could put on your helmet and lower the visor. But you’d be a bit conspicuous in the here and now.”

 

“That’s true,” said Luis. He pulled a piece of paper and some coin out of his purse. “These are the supplies I was supposed to pick up at the chandler we use. Can you buy them and have them delivered to my boat, on the Arenal? It’s the Estrella, as I am sure you know, and we are beached in front of the Puerto de Macarena. In the meantime, I’ll figure out how to get out of Seville with my skin still attached.”

 

“Good luck on that,” said Juan. “But I’ll do what I can.”

 

****

 

That night, a tapada, a veiled woman, left Juan’s home, carrying a large bag.

 

“The veil itches,” said Luis.

 

“It was your idea. You rejected mine,” said Juan.

 

“I’d rather be a woman under a veil than a corpse in a coffin,” said Luis.

 

“Keep your voice down,” warned Juan. “In fact, don’t talk at all. You’re no castrato.”

 

As they progressed toward the Arenal, Luis fretted. His swords were hidden inside the bag, wrapped so they wouldn’t clink together. But that also meant that if it came to a fight, all he had was his dagger.

 

For that matter, even if his disguise weren’t penetrated, there was the matter of the law. For women to cover their faces was, in the view of the authorities, a sign that they had a licentious purpose. There was a fine of 3,000 marevedis for each offense. A night watchman might impose the fine, or at least demand a bribe to overlook it. The watchman might even insist that Luis remove the veil, in which case, well, he would need his dagger.

Even though he was a good Catholic, Luis found himself holding his breath as he approached the castle that stood at the Triana end of the bridge of boats that crossed the Guadalquivir to Seville proper. The castle that held the offices of the Holy Inquisition.

 

Despite these perils, Luis made it to the Estrella, unhindered.

 

Juan leaned toward him. “Your supplies should be on board, I had them delivered this afternoon. Good luck, and stay out of sight as much as you can until things blow over.” He hurried off.

 

Luis hefted the bag and lowered it over the deck rail. He tried to be quiet but the bag didn’t cooperate, and the deckhand sleeping on the deck stirred. He raised his head, and said, “Well, hello, young lady, come aboard and let’s get to know each other better. You can even keep the veil on . . . .”

 

“It’s me, you idiot,” whispered Luis. “Keep your voice down and take my bag.”

 

“Captain?” the deckhand squeaked.

 

“Help me aboard. This damn dress is a bit restrictive.”

 

****

 

The deckhand, fortunately, was from Luis’ wife’s side of the family and looked perfectly Hispanic. Hence, he had not encountered any problems during the day, other than losing half his pay at gambling and spending the other half on the booze he had just been sleeping off.

 

His mind had been on dice, drink, and dames, not necessarily in that order, and if anyone in his vicinity had complained about the Japanese attack, he had been oblivious to it. Now, however, he was quick enough to understand that they had a problem. Or at least Luis had a problem and was making it his problem, too.

 

“What do you want me to do?” he sighed.

 

“Get the boat in the water at first light. Ask for help from your neighbors.”

 

‘Won’t they wonder how I got here by myself?”

 

“Tell them your skipper is sleeping off a drunk and will go into a rage if awakened prematurely. I’ll be hiding under a tarp.”

 

****

 

The following morning, Luis felt the boat lurch. As instructed, the deckhand had gotten help hauling the boat back into the river. Luis heard him call out his thanks as he poled them out from the bank. The current took hold of the boat, and they were on their way.

 

“You can come out now, Captain.”

 

Luis emerged slowly, shading his eyes with his hand as if the dawn light was bothering him. It was, but the main reason was to make it that much harder for anyone nearby to see the shape of his eyes.

 

Fortunately, even here at Seville, the Guadalquivir River was broad enough so that with the Estrella drifting down the center, no one on the bank could tell that he was Asian. And the crews of the few boats near enough to matter were intent on their own business, not searching for Japanese.

 

****

 

Luis’ home, Coria del Rio

 

Luis, his two fellow samurai, their adult sons, and the heirs of Luis’ deceased fellow guardsmen sat on chairs in Luis’ common room, sipping wine from pigskin containers.

 

“My vote is to leave,” said Gonzalo do Japon. “Matters are going badly for the Spanish Crown, neh? A Spanish army defeated by the heretics of Grantville. And Spanish rule over the Netherlands is in, shall we say, even more doubt than before.

 

“The king will need money for more troops, but the loss of Manila means loss of revenue from at least one, maybe two, Manila galleon runs.

 

“I expect that the Crown will raise taxes, which will cause . . . disgruntlement . . . here. How better to distract the populace from their new burden than to appeal to their honor, to say that it is necessary to put the Japanese in their place.

 

“This is not a problem that will blow over in a week, or a month. We will be living with this for years.”

 

Luis nodded. “There’s certainly a chance you’re right. What do you propose?”

 

“We can take a ship to Rome. Nowhere was our embassy more warmly welcomed than in Rome. We even had an audience with the Holy Father. And our lord was named a Senator of Rome!”

 

Luis heard several coughs and indistinct murmurs from behind the screen dividing the common room. On the other side the Spanish wives and adult daughters of the ex-samurai sat on cushions, listening to the debate but not participating. Not yet, at least.

 

“And are you proposing that we go to Rome with or without our families? ”

 

Luis heard more coughs and murmurings.

 

“With them, of course,” said Gonzalo hastily. “And our valuables, and perhaps some of our household goods, if they aren’t too costly to transport.”

 

Luis snorted. “And how will we support them? I do not think that there is a shortage of fishermen in Rome. The Pope who welcomed us, Paulus Quintus, died in 1621. And his successor in 1623. We have no sure expectation of patronage from Papa Urbanus Octavus.

 

“Did you think we could become translators? Our knowledge of Japanese is now rusty from disuse, and few missionaries are still sent there.”

 

“Our katanas, at least, are not rusty,” said Gonzalo. “We could hire out as guards or teach our fighting arts.”

 

“And how often have you practiced your fighting skills since you settled in Coria del Rio? Back home, when I practiced iaijutsu, I would do a thousand fast draws in a row. And that would have been considered a normal iaijutsu workout. ”

 

Gonzalo looked sheepish. “Not daily, certainly. I thought that becoming a Spanish fisherman was like taking the tonsure and retiring from the world, or choosing to be a farmer rather than a samurai after the Separation Edict—the beginning of a ‘second life,’ in which martial arts were no longer central. I do kata still, but as, as a form of meditation, when I am not too tired from a day’s fishing.”

 

“Anyway,” said their fellow samurai, Juan do Japon, “there are risks just in getting to Sanlucar and finding a ship to take us to Rome, or anywhere else, for that matter.”

 

Gonzalo took a puff on a pipe. The Portuguese had introduced tobacco smoking to the Japanese, and the Spanish were equally addicted. “We . . . we could pool our resources, and buy a ship, and crew it ourselves. And our Spanish-born relatives can front for us until we are on the open sea.”

 

Luis shook his head. “Most of them have never even been through the Straits. And you think they will agree to leave Spain forever? No, we need to find a better solution. Let me talk to de Cabrera, since he settled us here in the first place. I will send word begging for him to come here, since we don’t wish to chance the streets of Seville right now.”

 

****

 

“The great irony,” said Don Diego de Cabrera, “is that however bad it may be for Spain in general, the fall of Manila will lead to the rise of Seville. The ships of the flota carry European goods from Seville to New Spain and Tierra Firme. But the galleons of the Pacific carry Chinese goods from Manila to New Spain, undercutting us. Why, the Chinese silk weavers even imitate Christian religious art!

 

“The Council of Seville has repeatedly petitioned the kings of Spain to restrict, even abolish, the Manila trade. The king’s order of 1593 limited the volume of the trade, required the payment of duties before the goods could be sold in New Spain, and prohibited their transshipment to Tierra Firme, but the Manila and Acapulco merchants have maliciously flouted the king’s will.”

 

“So we should just keep our heads down, and this will all blow over soon?” asked Luis hopefully.

 

De Cabrera shook his head sorrowfully. “It is bad enough when Spain is defeated by another European power, like the Swede. It cannot disregard an attack by a pagan nation. I have no doubt that some counteraction will be taken. If not seeking to recapture Manila, then perhaps a bombardment of some Japanese city.”

 

“Yes, yes,” said Luis, “but that is a matter for princes. Spain has been at war with the Dutch heretics off and on for many years, and the Dutch were, my brother told me, the shogun’s allies against Manila, yet Dutchmen have come to Seville to trade since I first came to this country. They may be watched by the Inquisition, they may be charged special fees, but if they behave themselves they have no more fear of violence in the city than a Spaniard would. Why should one from Japan fare worse? Here in Coria, our neighbors have known us for decades. They know us to be good Catholics and loyal to Spain.”

 

“It is the way of the world,” said de Cabrera. “You look different. The news from Manila besmirches the honor of Spain, and yet most Spaniards are impotent to address the true cause of their grief and anger. When you walk by, they see that by persecuting you, they can restore their honor. It is not your neighbors, but my neighbors, who do not know you, who you rightly fear.”

 

“So, should we flee to some other Catholic country?” asked Gonzalo.

 

De Cabrera pondered the question. “No . . . it is a last resort. You will be able to take only a portion of your property, and selling the rest in haste, you are likely to get a poor price. The attempt at flight might be detected, and taken as an admission of guilt, that you are spies for your emperor. Or as an admission that you have reverted to paganism, and so exciting the attention of the Inquisition. Even if you safely leave Sanlucar, the crew of the ship that offers you passage might seek to take advantage of you. When the moriscos were expelled from Spain, some were robbed, raped, even murdered.

 

“No, you must speak to your wives, and have them speak to their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters, and those in turn speak to their relations.

 

“Truthfully, now. Does your parish priest think well of you?”

 

“I am sure he does,” said Juan. “Of the six of us who came to Corio in 1614, only three are still alive, but we have never missed a service in the twenty-odd years we have lived here, even when we have been sick or injured.”

 

“That is good,” said de Cabrera. “I will speak to him, and see whether he might preach a sermon that will promote good will.”

 

****

 

The three ex-Japanese followed de Cabrera’s advice, and received assurances from their relatives and neighbors that in Coria, at least, they were held blameless for the actions of their distant former countrymen.

 

“Having the support of the people of Coria is gratifying,” said Gonzalo, “but how can we fish on the river? Or buy or sell in Seville or Sanlucar? Close up, they’ll see that we have almond eyes.”

 

“That’s a problem,” Luis admitted.

 

“We could pretend to be mestizo,” said Juan. “When we were in New Spain, I saw many indios who could pass for nihonjin if they wore kimono and geta. And at least a few of the mestizo took after them.”

 

“There are mestizo in Seville, but only a few come with each flota, and they usually don’t settle here. And I suspect that if they look much like us, they are in danger of being taken to be nihonjin and lynched, given the current mood of the city.”

 

Gonzalo spat. “I suppose we will have to become farmers and never leave Coria again. Stay away from the riverbank, too.”

 

“Not necessarily,” said Luis. “I have an idea. Do you have your reading glasses handy?” Few of the inhabitants of Coria del Rio were literate, but the converted samurai had been literate in their homeland and had learned to read Latin.

 

“Go get them,” said Luis. And while Gonzalo was away on this errand, Luis built up the fire.

 

“Here they are,” said Gonzalo.

 

“Give them to me,” said Luis, and once they were in his hands, he held them over the fire.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“You are a fisherman, you have smoked fish, yes? I am smoking your lenses.”

 

As Gonzalo watched Luis do just that, he asked, “Whatever gave you this idea?”

 

“I had two recollections that mixed together. There was a Chinese scholar at Lord Date’s court. He came to Japan after the famines of 1590 and 1591, I believe. I was in attendance on the lord and they were talking about judicial proceedings. The scholar mentioned that in China, judges wear eyeglasses with lenses made of smoky quartz, so that the accused cannot guess what they are thinking from their expressions.

 

“So that seemed relevant, but I have no idea where to find smoky quartz here in Spain, and even if I did, it would probably be too expensive. But then I thought about how soot builds up on glass lanterns . . . .”

 

****

 

Gonzalo tried out the smoked glasses the next morning. The deposit of soot on the lenses indeed made it harder for passers-by to see the shape of his eyes, even in the bright morning light.

 

“It works,” he told Luis, “but I wonder what will happen to the soot coating when it rains. Or if we’re out in the open ocean and get hit by a wave, or even just sea spray. You think we could use mica, instead?” Mica was sometimes used instead of glass in ship’s lanterns and in spectacles for stone and metal workers.

 

“Isn’t it expensive?” asked Luis doubtfully. Most mica came to Spain from Russia or India. A little came from New Spain; there were trade routes still in operation that brought mica to the Olmecs and Maya of Mexico from sources unknown.

 

“We can buy the rejects,” said Gonzalo. “The sheets that are green or amber.”

 

“Or we can have lenses made locally, from green glass.”

 

****

 

The Japanese and half-Japanese fishermen of Coria del Rio started wearing green-tinted glasses that hid their distinctive eyes from any xenophobic Spaniards. So, too, did a few of their whole-blooded Spanish neighbors and relations, as a show of solidarity. They all found, much to their surprise and delight, that the glasses had another advantage; it made it easier to see in the bright sun of Andalusia. The custom of wearing the tinted glasses spread, first to other Corian fishermen, and then to the farmers as well.

 

And so the people of Coria del Rio came to be known along the length of the Guadalquivir as gente de ojos verdes — the “green-eyed ones.”

 

****

 

Author’s Note: The names of the Japanese who remained in Coria del Rio is not known, because the parish church records were destroyed by fire. “Kinzo” is the name of one who went to Rome. There are several accounts of the Hasekura embassy, and they are not in complete agreement with each other. I have relied mostly on Abraham, “The Japon Lineage in Spain,” in Japanese and Nikkei at Home and Abroad, and Meriweather, “Life of Date Masamune,” in Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan. The embassy was sent by Date Masamune, who is a major character in my 1636: Seas of Fortune.

 

The full story of the Dutch-Japanese assault on Manila (and Cavite) will appear in 1636: Mandate of Heaven. Eric and I handed in the manuscript in Dec. 2015, but best guess is that it will be published in April-June 2018. Just to be clear, the Japanese did not in fact kill every Spaniard in the city of Manila, that’s merely what was rumored on the streets of Seville.

 

Eyeglasses were invented in Italy in the late thirteenth century. By the fifteenth century, they were widely exported throughout Europe, and the cheapest cost just a couple of shillings.

http://www.antiquespectacles.com/history/ages/through_the_ages.htm

 

As for seventeenth-century Spain, consider this portrait of Don Francisco de Quevedo:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pince-nez#/media/File:Quevedo_(copia_de_Vel%C3%A1zquez).jpg

 

Glasses were worn by both sexes, and by both old and young, and the higher the social class, the larger the lenses. See Desfourneaux, Daily Life in Spain in the Golden Age 155-6 (1966).

****

Greta’s Day Off

Night, May, 1636

A Road near Vesserhausen

 

She woke up. This was not strange, because Greta slept a lot when she was not dancing. She was in her wooden den, and it was moving. This was also not strange—when her den was moving, it meant she could rest, and would not have to dance for a while. But she could not smell Him, and that was strange. She could not smell Him anywhere, only the faint traces left behind. He was always with her when they were moving, making man-noises at her through the bars when she stirred. Greta was unhappy, and she sniffed deeply at the air. There were men around her den, but she did not know any of their smells. That was not always strange, men would come and look at her in the den when she was not dancing, but He would always be there, too, and there would be other men around whose smells she recognized.

These men were strangers. They smelled of blood and dogs and death. Greta did not mind dogs. Sometimes, He would have her stand very still, and dogs would jump up to stand on her back. The men watching would make lots of noise, and she would get a fish to eat. The horses pulling her den did not smell like the horses she knew, either. Where was He? Shuffling onto all fours, she grunted her distress at the nearest strange man as he stumbled along over the dark ground without a light. Men knew that when she was upset, they could find Him and he would calm her down. But this man jumped instead, making man-noises and waving a long stick at her. He did not go away to find Him, and when she huffed at him again, louder, he put his stick through the bars and poked her in the side of the neck. That was something man cubs would try to do sometimes, before He made loud noises at them and scared them away. But He was not here, this was not a cub, and Greta was afraid.

She backed away to the opposite wall of her den, colliding with the bars on that side and causing the den to rock on its wheels. The horses stopped when their burden shifted, and other men started making noises. She smelled burning, and hot lights appeared in the hands of other men, coming closer to her den. Another man with a long stick poked her, from the other side, and made angry noises. She retreated from him, but the first man still had his stick. Now Greta was getting angry. He was nowhere to be smelled or seen, while these strange men poked at her with sticks. Rushing again to the other side of her den, but now she pushed at it with her shoulder, growling and snapping at the man with the stick on that side. He made scared noises and fell backwards, but this time the den shifted too far with Greta’s weight.

Something snapped, broke, and her whole den fell onto its side while horses and men screamed. She fell heavily on her side, and the roof of the den cracked. A hard push, and she was outside her broken den through the hole, in a field of grass in the dark while men made noises and ran in all directions—some at her and some away. The ones who ran away from her marked territory on the ground, which Greta did not understand. She did not understand what was happening. She just wanted Him, and to stop being poked with sticks, and to go back to sleep, and maybe to have a fish. Thunders cracked around her, and she heard stinging bugs. Men were all around her, with their sticks and hot lights, but suddenly Greta spotted a gap in the circle of men, an empty dark spot into the fields, and she charged for safety. A stinging bug bit her ear, and she ran faster, away from the angry men who smelled of dogs. She would find Him, and he would make her safe again. He had to.

****

Early Morning, May, 1636

Vesserhausen

 

He opened his left eye and watched the ceiling. Silently, he counted to thirty, then opened the right eye and closed his left. He counted to thirty again, opened both eyes, and swung his feet to get out of bed. Both of his eyes worked, as they had every morning since he had first started checking. But it was a Rule that he had to be sure, because a day couldn’t start properly until he had both eyes open. Peter had a lot of Rules. Some were easy to follow, like checking his eyes every morning when he got out of bed. Others were harder, but he needed them all. The world was a hard place for him sometimes. He wasn’t dumb, but he was . . . different . . . than anyone else. Things happened that didn’t make sense to Peter, and people did or said things that confused him. Father belting him for saying things that made people mad hadn’t worked. Being bathed in holy water at the big church in Suhl hadn’t worked either. Instead, Peter had started making his Rules. He didn’t need to understand why if a Rule told him that he was or wasn’t supposed to do something.

He got dressed, quickly, and fixed himself breakfast while carefully unfolding the prize he had found at the tavern last week. The paper was cheap, and the ink faded, but the pictures were still visible and he could read the words. There would be a traveling show coming through the area soon, stopping in Suhl and staying there for three whole days. Dancers would be there, and strange wonders, and trained animals. Peter liked animals, because they were easy to understand. People did a lot of things that only made sense to them, but you always knew what an animal wanted and how to treat it. He barely needed any Rules at all to interact with them. Perhaps he could get Father to ride with him to see the show tomorrow. Father would want to see if the show needed any specialty work done, or new wheels cut; tinkers could do small repairs, but a master wheelwright was better if you had one, and Father made the best wheels for a week in any direction. He’d also want to see the dancers. Particularly the women dancers, if they had any, but Peter couldn’t say that.

He finished his bread, ending the meal the way he had started it – that was an important Rule. Dinner would be a good time to ask Father about the show. Today, though, he had militia practice, which made it a good day. Peter liked militia drills, which came with Rules of their own. The only Rule he needed was to do whatever the captain said, when he said to, and only stand still otherwise. The captain liked him and called Peter his ‘rock’, since he never skipped practice and always followed orders. And it gave him something to do besides help Father cut wheels. He was a decent journeyman wheelwright, but he’d never be a master, because a master had to deal with customers and other masters. Peter would be a journeyman all his life—for Father, then for whoever Father found to take over his shop. With one last look at the traveling-show announcement, he folded the worn paper again and stuck it into his pocket. Not being late for drill was a Rule.

****

Mid-Morning, May, 1636

Outskirts of Vesserhausen

 

Greta was hungry. She was tired, and scared, and confused, but mostly she was hungry. She tried whining again, but it did not work this time either. He did not appear with food for her to eat. Her ear hurt, and nothing smelled right. The world was supposed to smell like men, but there were no men here. She had run from the angry men in the dark, and now there was light. He should have been here, bringing her food when she woke up in her den. She should have been in her den, comfortable and safe. Instead she was here, wandering lost through tall grass with smells she did not know. She moaned and sniffed, hoping that this time His scent would be drifting by. It wasn’t, but the wind had shifted, and she perked up at smells she knew. That was the smell of men, different than the angry men. She could detect meat as well and the sweet scent of fresh padding for her den. Greta was sure that these were the smells of home and turned to follow.

She walked, and walked, and walked. The scents grew stronger, and she stood to look ahead. The grass stopped, and a man-den was there. A wooden ring and a smaller den that had a smell of horses were next to it. The smells of men and hot meat came from the man-den, and she sped up. At the edge of the grass, she stopped and whined, hoping the men inside would hear her and bring out food. A dog came charging around the side of the den instead. This was not one of His dogs, who would sniff her and jump on her and sometimes fall asleep on her leg. It was an angry dog, growling and barking. It smelled of dirt and plants and men, but they were the wrong men. Something that smelled like meat squealed and fled in the other direction. She snapped a warning at the dog, and it stopped. But now a man was coming out, and he was also angry. He smelled of dirt and plants, too, and dung and fresh bedding. He yelled at Greta and waved a stick in his hand at her while the dog barked. Greta was confused, and she backed away. The man did not have any food for her. He kept yelling, and his stick thundered. A stinging bug flew past, and Greta turned to run. The sun was bright, and she was tired. More thunder rumbled from behind her, and this time a bug bit her on the hindquarter. It hurt, and she screamed as she fled. The dog did not chase her, standing near its man and barking as he yelled. She would hide in the trees and sleep. Perhaps there would be food.

****

Mid-Morning, May, 1636

Vesserhausen

 

He made it to town with plenty of time to spare, but even so Peter thought he must have been late at first. There were far more people bustling around the town square than usual at this hour, and the constable was stacking spears—big ones, with real steel points—against a wall instead of the usual blunt-ended poles they drilled with. There was powder being brought out for the muskets, as well, which made it a special practice day by itself. To one side, a boy with a face Peter knew but couldn’t name was talking excitedly to a group of other militia members. The boy’s horse gulped water from a barrel, while several of Holtzmann’s hunting hounds snuffled at its feet and each other.

‘All right, everyone, listen up!’ A sharp whistle accompanied the shout, turning Peter’s head along with everyone else’s to the captain.

‘It’s a special day we’ve got, you boys get a chance to prove you’ve actually been learning something all this time. Holtzmann’s boy here came in from their farm out near the forest, said a bear came along, tore up all their crops something fierce, and tried to eat the pig. Bears are no joke, my little chickens, especially ones hungry enough to go after farm animals. No regular drill today, I’ll be calling a special squad with me and Jeorg’s hounds here out to Holtzmann’s plot. That bear needs to be dealt with before it moves up to man-eating.’

The news of drill being cancelled shocked Peter at first, till he calmed himself with a few deep breaths. Militia drill wasn’t a Rule, but it was a routine he was used to, and losing that threw off his focus to where he almost missed his name being called by the captain.

‘Peter, grab a spear. You’ll anchor the right end of the line.’ Happy once more, despite the break in routine, he did as ordered and took the first spear in reach. Some of the other militiamen glared at him, the ones whose names didn’t get called, but he didn’t stop to try and work out why they’d be upset with him for taking that spear when it looked like all the others. Something itched inside his brain as he lined up behind the captain, but he could solve it later. Right now, he had orders to follow and a job to do.

****

 

Late Morning, May, 1636

Thuringerwald

 

The river water was cold and delicious as Greta lapped at it. And it had fish in it, but they were not normal fish that sat and waited to be eaten. These fish moved and jumped in the water, easily avoiding her clumsy attempts to grab one. A short nap beneath some trees had been welcome, but before long the stinging pain where she had been bitten woke her up again. Yet again, she was surrounded by smells she could not put names too. They were familiar, in some faint and vague fashion, but still alien. Strange things grew and scurried and flew all around, that were not men or horses or dogs. The only food she had found that did not run away from her was a bush with berries, dull-looking but sweet-smelling. The sweet smell reminded her of Him, so she ate them, but she was still so very hungry. Trying to scratch the itch on a tree made it hurt worse, and it was too far back to reach with her claws.

****

 

Late Morning, May, 1636

Outskirts of Vesserhausen

 

The rest of the squad was gathered around the captain and Holtzmann as they talked. Meanwhile, Peter wandered off to pet the farm dog, who was happy to come out and sniff at him. The pig came over to investigate him as well, but quickly grew bored and left when it was obvious that Peter had nothing interesting to eat in his pockets. Jeorg’s hounds were straining at their leashes with anticipation, but Peter knew better than to try and pet them. Even if it hadn’t been Jeorg leading the pack himself, all the hounds were worked up from an old patch of bearskin rug they’d been given to sniff before. The trampled path of half-grown crops made it easy to see where the bear had come from, and where it had retreated to, but it still told the dogs what scent to track. It was a Rule of sorts for them, the way he saw it. Distracting them would make that Rule harder to follow, and he couldn’t do that to them.

Eventually, the huddle around the farmhouse broke up, and the captain whistled everyone into a group behind the hounds. Peter hurried to join them—then stopped, hesitating as he bent over to pluck something colorful out of the dirt. It was scrap of cloth, like a torn ribbon, and bright pink. Mother liked pretty things, so he stuffed it into a pocket for later and took his place with the militia squad. Judging by the hounds, the bear’s scent was still strong and rich. They’d be done before dinner or even earlier. Still, his head just kept itching on the inside, and now it was stronger. A thought he couldn’t pin down and form properly, the sort of thought that had given him fits before he began writing his Rules.

****

 

Mid-Afternoon, 1636

Thuringerwald

 

A sound caught her ears, one she did recognize at last. It was the sound of dogs howling, chasing something. She couldn’t smell them, but she could tell the direction of the sound. Dogs were faster than she was and could catch things that ran away from her. Perhaps they were friendly dogs like His dogs. If they were friendly dogs, they might have friendly men with them, who would give her food. And they were close, which was good.

****

The bear was not far into the forest at all. It had found a stream deep enough to drink out of, but luckily had not thought to cross to the other side. Picking up its trail again would have taken a very long time, but this bear didn’t seem to even realize it was being followed. Nor did it act afraid of them, like a wild bear should. The dogs bristled, torn between their hunting instinct and their fear at getting too close, but the bear didn’t seem to be scared of them either. It just looked at them. Maybe it really had gotten desperate enough that it thought men were food.

****

She stared at the men, who stared back. They had sticks like the angry men, but did not act angry. They smelled like men should smell—sweat and soured fruit and fear. Not men like Him, but like the men who watched when she danced or came to look at her in her den. The dogs barked and growled, but stayed away from her while the men made noises and waved their sticks around. It was almost normal, but at the same time so different and wrong. There was only one thing she could think of.

****

The captain shouted, and musketeers loaded their guns as the spearmen formed a wall between the gunners and the bear. Their first salvo might not kill the beast, and a wall of sharp points would keep it back until they could reload. In response, the bear reared up, balancing on its hind legs with the river behind and waving its paws at them. Peter held his spear tight, willing himself for the noise of the volley and the charge of the angered bear in front of them. But the thought in his head was painful, buzzing so loudly he could barely see the bear standing in front of them. A bear with scraps of pink ribbon tied into its fur.

All at once, the thought stopped buzzing as everything fell into place. The captain was ordering the muskets to take aim, and Peter did something unthinkable. He broke a Rule, dropping his spear as he fumbled frantically for his pocket. The sudden motion drew everyone’s attention, man and bear, as he pulled out the neatly folded flier. It opened so quickly that it tore, as he shoved it towards the captain stammering. Above, the ornate title—BARENTSEN’S TRAVELING SHOW OF MARVELS. Below, a neatly typed list of towns and dates. Between, a ring of human faces surrounded dogs jumping through hoops, framing the silhouette of a bear on its hind legs with ribbons tied in its fur.

‘Sir! Sir! It’s a bear. It’s a bear like the show. It’s the bear in the show! It’s a good bear! It’s a dancing bear! Don’t kill the bear, Sir!’

Peter talking was almost as shocking as his breaking ranks. The captain listened, though, calling a hold and taking the poster to examine more closely. He studied it for a long time, then broke into a smile.

‘Anyone brought their lunch with them? Our rock’s saved us the cost of ammo and found a way for us to get paid for this little nature walk as well. Sure as Jesus there’s going to be a reward for finding this beast with its hide on.’

****

She was still tired. Still hungry and sore and so very upset at everything that had happened to her. She wanted to smell Him, and see Him, and eat a fish that He gave her before falling asleep. But she had finally found friendly men. She had danced for them, and one had given her meat. It wasn’t Him, but for now it would do.

****

Whodunnit?

Magdeburg

May 12, 1635

 

Augustus Nero Domitian ‘Andy’ Wulff looked out his window with a sense of satisfaction. The glazier and the window frame maker had finally gotten two fairly large panes of glass floated and cut and assembled in the frames and installed in his new office. They weren’t quite as smooth and as regular as the window glass he had seen all over Grantville, but they let the light in, and unless you were up close any distortions created in vision were minimal. All in all, he was happy with his new office.

And he was happy with the reason why he had a new office. The decision to split the Grubb Wurmb & Wulff legal partnership into two offices, as often as he had fantasized about it, had proven first of all to be a difficult decision to make, and second of all a challenging one to implement. But here he was, heading the new Magdeburg branch of the partnership. Karl Grubb and Leopold Wurmb, the other partners, had remained with the home office.

Truth to tell, that was one of the reasons that Andy had been more than happy to take the lead in the Magdeburg development. Karl was his father-in-law. He and Leopold, one of Karl’s old schoolmates and legal partner for years, were having some problems dealing with the impact of Grantville and the up-timers on legal matters. Better that they sit in the home offices in Grantville and take care of the routine kind of legal affairs that they were both admittedly still very good at.

Andy, however, wanted to be in the fires, so to speak. He wanted to be where the government was making decisions, where major lawsuits were being filed, and where appellate cases were being shaped to make an attorney’s reputation. In a word, Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe, and home base for Gustavus Adolphus, Emperor of the USE, King of Sweden, and High King of the Union of Kalmar. Paris couldn’t compare to it. Not even Vienna ranked as high now, since the Austrian emperor could no longer preface his title with Holy Roman. And Madrid was too far, too foreign, and too Catholic for consideration. So, perforce, Magdeburg.

Andy let his wife, Portia, lay the groundwork with her father about the partnership needing to expand and take advantage of their nearness to Magdeburg. When Karl finally brought it to the other two partners, Andy pretended to think about it, even to be reluctant about it, but finally allowed the others to convince him to take the lead. He could have gotten it anyway if he had declared for it at the beginning, but it simply made things go a little smoother if they thought it was their idea. And he saw the certain attraction from their side—Andy, their bristly chief litigator, would be someplace else. Leopold in particular would like that. He was still smarting from Andy’s maneuvers during the Stone mess, and Andy knew the man’s memory was long, even for a German.

Magdeburg—thriving, hustling, bustling capital of central Europe and the Germanies. Andy rubbed his hands together. It almost felt like a giant party going on all day every day. He couldn’t wait to see what would happen.

Andy heard the office clock sound the hour from the front room to the offices—ten little bongs, so 10 a.m. He turned away from the window and picked up the page on his desk. Yes, there should be a client here for an appointment. As he looked up from the page, Christoph Heinichen, his general assistant, gatekeeper, and attorney-to-be, ushered a man through the open door from the reception area.

“Herr Wulff,” Christoph said, “this is your next client, Herr Brendan Murphy. Herr Murphy, Attorney Wulff.” And with that, Christoph withdrew, quietly closing the door behind him.

Andy was surprised to see that one of his first potential clients in Magdeburg was an up-timer, but that didn’t bother him any. After all, the Stone account was one of the firm’s largest, and all the men in the family were up-timers. He was used to up-timers, and in fact, rather enjoyed dealing with them. He advanced to meet Murphy, open hand leading the way.

The two men shared a firm handshake, then Andy gestured toward the chair placed before the desk. “Please, Herr Murphy, be seated.” As the up-timer did so, Andy rounded the desk and seated his legal posterior in his own chair, placed his elbows on the desk, joined his hands, and rested his chin on his extended thumbs.

Herr Murphy was a large man. Of course, he was an up-timer, so that meant that the odds were good he’d be larger than the average down-timer. But even by up-timer standards he was large, both tall and of a considerable bulk. Not as large as the almost-fabled Tom Simpson, of course, but not far short of that size, either.

Murphy was looking back at him with a blue-eyed gaze that was clear and direct. Andy knew what he was seeing: a short slight man with dark eyes and very dark hair, whose gaze was also clear and direct. In fact, ‘direct’ could almost be what the ‘D’ initial in his name stood for.

“So why are you here, Herr Murphy?” Andy began. “There must be a number of attorneys in Magdeburg or even Grantville who you could work with. Why come to the newest one in Magdeburg?”

“Mom kept me informed about that flap between the Stones and the tax board last year,” Murphy said. “Your name was pretty prominent in the best stories that were coming out of Grantville back then, and everyone was saying that if they had any kind of legal trouble they wanted you on the case. Well, I’ve got a problem, and I don’t think I’m going to do any better than you.” He spread his hands.

Andy pulled one of his beloved legal pads out of a desk drawer—he could forgive the up-timers for a multitude of sins for bringing the concept of legal pads back with them and showing down-time papermakers how to make them—and picked up a pencil. “Tell me about it, then.”

Murphy pulled a folded paper out of an inside jacket and reached to hand it across the desk to Andy. He settled back in his chair after Andy took the paper and unfolded it.

 

Herr Brendan Murphy

USE Department of Transportation

Magdeburg

 

Herr Murphy, Greetings,

 

I am writing this letter as the attorney representing the Becker family of Erfurt. Herr Johannes Becker, the head of the family, has placed evidence before me that you have taken advantage of his family and its hospitality, by seducing a daughter of the house, to wit, Margarethe. This was apparently accomplished by various blandishments, including promises of undying love and a desire to marry her. It was rather disturbing to them when you subsequently disappeared, particularly after it became apparent that Margarethe is with child.

 

It has taken considerable time and expense to locate you, but both Frau Margarethe and Herr Becker insist that you be informed of what has developed. Frau Margarethe desires that you return and join her in marriage. Herr Becker’s message is that if you do not return, you will be sued for fraud, misrepresentation, and breach of contract. He has engaged my services in the event that those actions become necessary. I must inform you that it is possible that certain criminal charges may be lodged against you as well.

 

It would be in your best interest, Herr Murphy, to fulfill your promises and obligations. I understand that as an up-timer you may have different values or different opinions about the importance of and validity of certain beliefs. And perhaps in Grantville matters such as these are treated casually. But this matter occurred in Erfurt, not Grantville, and I believe you will find that our laws and customs do make this a serious concern. Very serious.

 

I must inform you that it is known that you are a member of the USE Army, although you are working in a governmental function at the moment. Therefore, a copy of this letter is being forwarded to your commanding officer.

 

I trust you will make the right decision.

 

Have a nice day.

 

Jacobus Agricola, attorney

5 May 1635

 

Jacobus Agricola. Andy kind of recognized the name, but he didn’t recall that Grubb Wurmb & Wulff had had any professional contact with the man. That could be good or bad: good if any contact had worked to Agricola’s client’s benefit; bad if it had been confrontational and Agricola’s client had come out on the losing side.

Agricola’s conclusion of the letter with “Have a nice day” almost made Andy laugh. Of all the up-time phrases to have made it to Erfurt, that was one of the least likely, yet there it was.

Andy pursed his lips, set the letter down, and said, “To quote my friend and client Tom Stone, ‘Wow, man.’ ”

“Yeah,” Murphy said in a tone so dry it threatened to suck all the moisture out of the air in the room.

“So . . .” Andy laid the letter down on the desktop and looked at Murphy. “. . . when did this arrive?”

“Two days ago.”

“And you’re just now bringing it to me?”

“Hey, you’ve moved,” Murphy said. “It took me two days to find you.”

“All right, point.” Andy chuckled for a moment, then sobered. “Okay, straight truth now: did you in fact get Margarethe Becker pregnant?”

Murphy reddened a bit, but responded in a level tone. “Hell, no. I’ve never been closer to Erfurt than Eisleben, and that was two years ago. To my knowledge, I’ve never even seen this woman, much less had any kind of a relationship with her. I don’t know who knocked her up, but it wasn’t me.”

Andy looked Murphy in the eyes, but the up-timer’s gaze was still direct, no shifting of eyes or changes of position. For the moment, he would assume the young man was telling the truth. He picked up his pencil again.

“Okay, let’s start putting some information together, then.”

A few minutes later, Andy looked down at his notes:

 

Name: Brendan Sean Murphy

Age: 29

Birthdate: July 2, 1974

Married: to Catrina Kennedy, October 12, 1633

Children: Thomas Brendan Murphy, born December 1634 (and another on the way)

Employed: State of Thuringia and Franconia National Guard

Detailed to the USE Department of Transportation

Rank: Sergeant

Commanding officer: Lieutenant Todd Pierpoint

Employment history: USE Department of Transportation (seconded from SoTF National Guard

NUS Army/SoTF National Guard 1631-1634

West Virginia National Guard pre-Ring of Fire

(while attending college)

 

Andy tapped his pencil point by the employment datum. “Well, if you’ve never been to Erfurt, could this be related to your job?”

Murphy spread his hands. “I don’t see how. I carried a rifle for the Army until 1634, then me and some of the other guys were pulled together in an ad hoc unit and attached to the new USE Department of Transportation. Part of our job was to help set up scheduling for the trains and for military shipments, and part of it was to establish security procedures for the trains and the train stations, and train railroad guards. I am part of the training cadre, so I’ve dealt with most of the guards at one time or another, but I can’t think of anyone I’ve dealt with who would be after me, especially for something like this. I mean, like I said, I’m married, I love my wife and stay at home, and everyone knows that.”

“Do you intend to make a profession out of the military, Herr Murphy?” Andy twirled his pencil in his fingers.

“Call me Brendan. No.” Murphy shrugged. “I mean, I could. I think I’d be good at it. And although the benefits we’d have had up-time wouldn’t be there, we could still make a good life out of it if I went command track and became an officer. But now that most of the conflicts are settled, the Army doesn’t really need me, and I promised Catrina I’d get out and settle down in one place, preferably here in Magdeburg. And moving around was painful up-time. It’s horrible now. No offense,” he said after a moment.

Andy smiled. “And I’m Andy. Having just moved to Magdeburg myself, I believe I totally understand the spirit in which you made that comment. And I agree.” He looked back down at the notepad. “I will need to know your residences and locations and times of residence since Grantville arrived. Plus any trips you may have made. I believe you mentioned Eisleben?”

“Yeah. There were a couple of others. I’ll look at my records tonight and pull that together. Should have it to you sometime tomorrow.”

Andy nodded. He picked up the letter again. “This Herr Agricola made a point of saying that he had sent a copy of the letter to your commanding officer. Do you know if that’s arrived yet?”

Murphy shook his head. “Not according to Todd—Lieutenant Pierpoint, that is. Sorry, they just bumped him up to Lieutenant, and I keep forgetting that. Of course, there’s always the possibility it went to someone else. No telling who he was told was the commanding officer. Depending on how he found out, there are a dozen different names he could have been given. Geez, it could even be on its way to General Jackson.” A horrified expression crossed his face.

Andy suppressed a smile. “Well, we will hope that’s not the case. But I have to wonder, how did she get your name if you’ve never been to Erfurt?”

“Andy, I don’t know. And that’s part of what’s really bugging me about this. If it had been someone I’d known in Grantville or here in Magdeburg, I could understand her picking my name to use for her little scam. But Erfurt?” He shook his head. “I’m at a loss for that one. It’s almost like someone from Magdeburg got to her and told her to use my name. But who?”

“And perhaps more importantly,” Andy said, “why?”

“Yeah.”

“I should also ask, is there another Brendan Murphy in Grantville?”

Murphy smiled. “You mean, outside of my five-month-old son? Actually, there is, but it won’t help anything. I’ve got a young nephew named Brendan Andrew Murphy-Chaffin.”

“How young?”

“Well, he was born in 1997, so he’s seven years old, about to turn eight in a couple of months. Smart kid, but not that smart.”

Andy chuckled, but added a few notes to the pad anyway. “No, no solutions there. And the odds of there being a down-timer named Brendan Murphy walking around this part of the Germanies aren’t good. And if there was, the odds of him being able to successfully misrepresent himself as an up-timer are even less likely.”

“That’s about what I figured, too,” Murphy said.

Andy twirled his pencil a couple of times, then set it down. “Okay, I think I’ve got everything I need at the moment. Send me that other information, and I’ll start working this with Herr Agricola. If anything comes up with Lieutenant Pierpoint or his superiors, just refer them to me. You can tell them that we are treating this as a matter of mistaken identity, although we’re not ignoring the potential for either slander or libel.”

Murphy’s shoulders slumped just a bit. He’d obviously been feeling some stress about this, which was relieved a bit now that Andy was taking the case up. Good.

“Does your wife know about this?”

Murphy’s shoulders tightened again, and a grim expression came onto his face. “Oh, yeah. She’s the one who opened the letter when it arrived. Once she figured out what it was about, she hit the roof. She knows it’s a lie, because I’ve slept beside her every night for the last year and a half, so she’s about ready to catch the train down to Erfurt and snatch this Becker woman bald. She’s got the Irish temper to go with her red hair.” He shook his head. “Not a good thing, to get on her bad side.”

Andy grinned. “Was it Shakespeare who said that the woman is deadlier than the male?”

“One of those Englishmen.” Murphy thought about it for a moment. “Now you’ve got me wondering. I’ll go nuts if I don’t figure it out. Thanks, Andy.” That last almost dripped sarcasm.

Andy’s grin widened. After a moment, Murphy responded.

“So, I’ve been really curious, might as well ask about it since we’re about done—what’s with the initials? Who has three initials?”

Andy chuckled. “Anyone who had an old classicist for a father who tagged his son with the names of three famous Roman emperors.”

“What?”

“Augustus Nero Domitian Wulff, at your service.”

Brendan snorted. “Now that’s a mouthful.”

“Indeed. And my brother’s name is almost as bad: Tiberius Claudius Titus. And I won’t tell you what he did to our sister.”

“So, A. N. D.—Andy.” Murphy nodded. “Makes sense. But that doesn’t sound like a German thing.”

“It’s not. Actually, it’s a pretty recent thing. During that affair between the Stones and the tax department, Magda Edelmannin, Tom Stone’s wife, started calling me Andy as a bit of a joke based on the initials. Portia, my wife, loved it, and after a while it stuck. And since it’s an up-time-style nickname, the up-timers like it as well, so I’ve started using it for everything except formal documentation. Short and catchy, as Tom would say.”

“I can see that,” Brendan said with a grin. “So now I can explain it to Catrina, ’cause I know she’s going to ask.” There was a moment of silence before Brendan asked, “Anything else I need to do now?”

“No, I think I have what I need to get started,” Andy repeated as he stood and stepped around the desk. “I’ll respond to Herr Agricola’s demand. Hopefully we can get this straightened out soon.”

He held out his hand, and Brendan clasped it.

“Thanks, Andy. I’ll sleep better at night, knowing you’re looking after this.”

Andy escorted Murphy to the outer door of the office, and wished him a good day. Once the door was closed, he spun and grinned at Christoph.

“Dig out the fancy letterhead and limber up your typing fingers. Dust off the Goldfarb und Meier machine and get ready. I want to overawe this Erfurt attorney.”

Christoph responded with a grin of his own.

 

GRUBB WORMB & WULFF

Non Illegitimi Carborundum

A. N. D. Wulff, Partner

 

12 May, 1635

 

 

Herr Jacobus Agricola

Erfurt

 

 

Herr Agricola,

 

Good day to you. I have been engaged by Sergeant Brendan Murphy to make a response to your recent letter wherein you accuse Sergeant Murphy of seducing a woman in Erfurt and abandoning her after she became pregnant. Not to put too fine a point to it, but your accusation is false and baseless, and we categorically reject and deny it in toto and in every detail.

 

Your letter, mein Herr, treads perilously close to slander and libel. For your information, Sergeant Murphy has been a resident of Magdeburg for about a year, and has not left the city in that time. His commanding officer and his fellow soldiers will swear to that. He is also married, and his wife is well aware that he has slept beside her every night for the last year and a half, and is also willing to swear to that.

 

Consequently, Herr Agricola, unless you can produce incontrovertible evidence that Sergeant Murphy was indeed in Erfurt, and did indeed establish a relationship with Frau Becker, you had best advise your clients to drop this matter. Either that, or find another target.

 

If this goes before a judge, I will stand in Sergeant Murphy’s defense. I assure you, your clients would not enjoy that experience.

 

I suggest you help your clients see the path of wisdom.

 

Direct all future correspondence concerning this matter to my attention here in Magdeburg.

 

Sincerely,

A. N. D. Wulff

 

cc: Brendan Murphy

 

****

 

Magdeburg

May 20, 1635

 

Herr A. N. D. Wulff

 

Greetings.

 

Having received your response to my letter to Herr Murphy, I now respond in turn. Your denial of the truth is noted. I would expect nothing less from an attorney of your reputation. Your inferred threats are also noted. That, too, was not unexpected once we realized you would be representing Herr Murphy.

 

Herr Becker is uncowed by your letter. He will press forward with his intended course of action if Herr Murphy does not redeem his honor. To do less, he states, will be to fail his daughter’s honor, his family’s honor.

 

We are not impressed by the willingness of Herr Murphy’s up-time associates to swear to his being solely in Magdeburg for the time frame involved in this matter. Nor are we impressed by his wife’s avowals. Friends and spouses have been known to shade the truth before, even to the point of perjury. It will take harder evidence than that to clear Herr Murphy’s name and reputation.

 

And if Herr Murphy is indeed married to another woman, he is now liable for charges of at least attempted bigamy, in addition to everything that was laid out in my previous letter.

 

You demanded incontrovertible proof that Herr Murphy is indeed the father of the child in Frau Margarethe’s womb. She has in her possession a memento gifted to her by Herr Murphy on the night in which he compromised her honor. It is a thin metal plate, apparently some kind of tin alloy, about two inches wide by one inch high, with curved ends, and letters deeply embossed into the plate. The letters are as follows:

 

MURPHY

BRENDAN S.

713-55-469

A POS

CATHOLIC

 

Herr Murphy informed Frau Margarethe that this was called a ‘dog tag,’ that it had very great personal and spiritual importance to him, and that by entrusting it to her he was giving her the strongest assurance he could that he would indeed keep his promise and marry her. So she gave herself to him, and he subsequently abandoned her. But this he left behind. And this, Herr Wulff, is enough to bind Herr Murphy to his words and deeds.

 

To quote yourself, Herr Wulff, I suggest that you help your client see the path of wisdom.

 

Have a nice day.

 

Jacobus Agricola

16 May 1635

 

Andy set the letter down. “Christoph!” The young man appeared in the door to the inner office. “Send a note to Sergeant Murphy that I need to see him as soon as he can make arrangements to be here.” Christoph started to turn away, and Andy added, “Make it polite.” That got a grin from the young man.

In a moment, Andy heard the typewriter start clacking. “Price of progress, I know,” he muttered, “but a quill is certainly quieter.” He put the letter in the Murphy folder, which he placed on the table behind his desk, and resumed studying the contract that one of the merchants in town had asked him to analyze.

In the event, it was a couple of hours before Brendan was able to appear. Andy looked up as Christoph ushered the up-timer into the office.

“Here. You need to read this.” Andy passed the letter to Brendan, who settled into the visitor’s chair and started puzzling his way through the German calligraphy. Andy could tell when he got to the important part. His face reddened, his free hand formed a fist sitting atop his right knee, and he muttered, “Son of a . . .” It trailed away into inaudibility.

Brendan looked up finally. Andy was resting his chin on his interlaced fingers, elbows on the desk. He said nothing; simply raised his eyebrows. Brendan sighed.

“Yes, that pretty much has to be one of my dog tags from when I was in the West Virginia National Guard back before the Ring of Fire happened. I used to carry them for good luck.” He shook his head. “No, I did not give that dog tag to Frau Becker. They disappeared about six months ago. I thought I’d lost them, and I tore the office and my house apart looking for them, and was pretty bummed out when I couldn’t find them.”

“Any proof to that?” Andy asked.

“None they’d accept,” Brendan said with a scowl. “If they won’t accept testimony from the guys or from Catrina about my location, I don’t see that they’d take it about the dog tags.” He shook his head. “Life’s a pisser, you know? I mean, I avoided identity theft problems all my life up-time, and I go back in time 369 years, and someone hijacks my identity. Who would have thought that?”

“Identity theft?” Andy’s eyebrows went up again, and he pulled out a legal pad.

They spent the next couple of minutes discussing that concept, and the various ways the thefts had occurred in the up-time. Andy made notes, the concept of an article or pamphlet starting to take nebulous form. But it wasn’t long before they returned to the topic at hand.

“So, what do I do?” Brendan asked. “This doesn’t look good, and I want it cleared up as soon as possible.”

“I don’t see any way around it,” Andy said. “We’re going to have to meet them face to face to prove to them that you aren’t the man who got Frau Becker pregnant. Plus, we also want to identify the true wastrel, to not only put a seal on your innocence, but also to provide some form of justice for Frau Becker, and hopefully, prevent him from doing something like this again.”

“And I want my dog tags back, as well,” Brendan growled. “The one she’s got, and the one he’d better still have. So, do we have to travel to Erfurt? I mean, I can get the time off, and I can get us discounted rates on the train fare, since I’m part of the cadre that has been doing the railroad guard training. But would that make me look guilty, or something?”

“Going to Erfurt would be an admission of weakness, I think,” Andy said. “But I doubt we could get them to come to Magdeburg for the same reason. But perhaps we could get them to meet us midway between the two.”

“Neutral territory?” Brendan asked.

Andy quirked his mouth. “Yes, exactly. There would be no advantages for either of us then. Both sides would be dealing with inconvenience and expense, and neither would be in familiar territory.  Hmm . . . but where?”

“Eisleben,” Brendan said. Andy looked at him. “It’s between the two, and it has a good rooming house if we need to stay over, and the train station building has a conference room that we could use for a meeting.”

“Excellent. I’ll get the wheels in motion, then,” Andy said, rubbing his hands together. “I want to win this as soon as possible. And if we manage to rub Herr Agricola’s nose in the dirt as we do that, it will be a job well done.”

Now Brendan’s eyebrows elevated. Andy chuckled. “Yes, I am a competitive spirit, Brendan. Besides, I don’t like the tone of his letters.” He rose and came around the desk to shake hands and escort Brendan to the door. “I’ll get on this and let you know what gets arranged.”

After closing the door behind Brendan, Andy turned to Christoph. “Come take a letter, Christoph. And this time, word for word. No making it politer.”

 

GRUBB WORMB & WULFF

Non Illegitimi Carborundum

A. .N. D. Wulff, Partner

 

16 May, 1635

 

 

Herr Jacobus Agricola

Erfurt

 

 

Herr Agricola,

 

Having this day received your response dated 12 May 1635, I have reviewed it and discussed it with my client, Sergeant Brendan Murphy. Your tone continues to be a bit on the pugnacious side, but perhaps it is fitting, given the less than solid nature of your case against my client.

 

We believe it would be best to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. We will not travel to Erfurt to discuss the matter, just as I suspect you and your clients would be unwilling to travel to Magdeburg. Time constraints and travel costs would be an issue for both sides. Therefore, I propose that both groups travel to Eisleben to meet there to resolve the matter. I assure you, the new railroad can provide swift transport, and once there, the matter can and will be resolved quickly.

 

We insist that Frau Margarethe Becker be present and be part of the discussions. We also insist that she bring the dog tag with her.

 

And, by the way, that dog tag is not the incontrovertible proof you presented it as. It is the slenderest of reeds, that will collapse at the application of the slightest of weights.

 

To allow for travel time and arrangements, and for making arrangements for tickets on the train and for lodging, I suggest we think in terms of the first week of June. Sergeant Murphy will accommodate any reasonable date.

 

I strongly suggest you do not encourage your clients in the belief that they will prove victorious in this assault on my client. You will do them no favors if you do. A certain restraint would be wisdom at this point.

 

Sincerely,

A. N. D. Wulff

 

cc: Brendan Murphy

 

****

 

Eisleben

June 5, 1635

 

Andy stepped onto the platform at the Eisleben railroad station, and stretched. It was amazing how quickly the miles had passed in the trip, but one still stiffened when seated on a bench for a period of time, he decided, regardless of how quickly that bench might be moving past the countryside.

He looked to each side as Christoph Heinichen and their newest associate flanked him. Good. Now, if . . . and there are the Murphys, he thought as Brendan and Catrina joined them.

“Are we on schedule?” Andy asked.

Brendan looked at his wristwatch. “Unless they are ahead of schedule—fat chance of that!—we should have close to an hour before they arrive.”

“Good,” Andy said. “Now, a visit to the pissoir, and I shall be ready.”

“Me, too,” Catrina said.

Brendan chuckled, and led the way to the indoor toilets that were now de rigueur in new public buildings.

A few minutes later they were gathered in front of two doors down a short hall from the station master’s office. Brendan opened one, to reveal a moderately good-sized room with a rectangular table and twelve chairs gathered around it. “The meeting room, obviously.”

“Good,” Andy said. He walked in and laid his document case down in front of the chair at the far end of the table. Looking around and out the two windows, he added, “Nice room.”

“Yeah,” Brendan said. “The local station has picked up a fair bit of money renting the space out for civic groups to meet in, or for traveling businessmen to meet up and have a meeting before they go their separate ways. I think some of the other stations are considering either converting space or building on to offer similar services. Not sure whose idea it was, but it’s paid well for this station, anyway.”

“And you will be . . .” Andy said.

Brendan pointed to the hallway. “We’ll be in the assistant station master’s office across the hall. They promoted the last one and haven’t gotten around to naming a new one, so the office is empty. We’ll sit there with the door closed.”

“Good. Christoph will come get you when we’re ready for you to join the discussion.”

The Murphys left the room. Andy looked to his companions.

“Christoph, I’ll sit here, so place the name cards the way we discussed. Herr Liebmann, Christoph will sit to my left, and I would like you to sit beside him to start with. We’ll call on you early, and you can move to a different seat then if you need to.”

“Certainly, Herr Wulff.” Herr Liebmann laid his own bag down in front of the indicated chair, then turned around and looked out the window. Christoph finished placing the name cards in front of various chairs, then walked over to a small side table to check on the bottle of wine and glasses that had been provided at Andy’s request. Once he was satisfied with that, he took his seat beside Andy’s chair.

Andy stood for a couple of minutes longer, then took his own seat and took a book out of his bag—an up-time book, as it chanced, a thick but small softbound book entitled The Godfather. He needed to improve his command of up-time English, and he expected this would help.

Despite his occasional struggle with up-time idiom, the book captured Andy’s attention well enough that he was a bit startled when the door to the room opened, and one of the station staff ushered several people into the room. Andy slipped the book back into his bag as the newcomers quickly sorted themselves out. They stood facing Andy and Christoph, who had risen to their feet.

“Greetings,” Andy began, giving a slight nod of his head. “I am Augustus Nero Domitian Wulff, attorney for Sergeant Brendan Murphy. This is my assistant, Christoph Heinichen . . .” Christoph gave more of an abbreviated bow. “. . . and our associate Karl Liebmann.” Karl had turned from the window to stand behind his chair. He also gave a short bow.

“I am Jacobus Agricola,” the central of the three male figures said in a slightly nasal tenor. “This is Herr Johannes Becker.” He gestured to a paunchy figure with a weary face under salt-and-pepper hair and beard who made no motion at all. “Frau Margarethe Becker.” The short and sturdy youngish woman standing beside Herr Becker bobbed her head. “And my assistant Adam Schnorr.” That was a skinny young man with a prominent Adam’s apple, which jerked up and down as he swallowed and dipped his head at them.

Andy’s gaze had assessed all of them while Agricola was speaking: dressed conservatively, not in the latest styles, and not in the finest fabrics, not even Agricola. So, that gave him some idea of who and what he was facing. Not a group that would have the knowledge—or presence—or tools and assets—of the Adel.

“Please . . .” Andy gestured at the other end of the table. “. . .your places are marked. If you would take your places and allow Christoph to serve you some wine, we will get started.”

Andy took his own seat, and was a bit pleased to see Agricola’s forehead was a bit furrowed. If his acting as the genial polite host put the man a bit off-balance, that was all to the good.

Once the wine had been provided to all in the room, Andy leaned forward and clasped his hands on the table. “Thank you for coming,” he began. “We realize it is just as much a hardship for you to disrupt your affairs and travel here as it was for us.”

“Indeed,” Agricola interjected. “And where is your client?” He gave a pointed glance at the name cards placed before empty seats.

“Unavoidably detained for a short time,” Andy said smoothly. “Sergeant Murphy will join us soon.”

“He’d better,” Herr Becker growled. “On the other hand, if he gulls you, too, at least I’ll get a laugh out of seeing you taken down a few pegs.”

Andy just smiled. He knew the strength of his position, and nothing that Becker could say would stir his anger.

“Since we are waiting on Sergeant Murphy, let us do something that I wish we could have done earlier.” He looked over at Liebmann. “Herr Liebmann, here, is not an attorney. He is, in fact, what is called a character sketch artist, and he does work for the Magdeburg Polizei from time to time. I asked him to come with us, because I wanted to see if you could describe Herr Murphy well enough that he could draw a likeness of the man.”

“What?”

“Whatever for?”

The exclamations were simultaneous from both Agricola and Becker. Andy lifted a hand in a calming gesture.

“I have good and valid reasons for doing this. I doubt that it will take long; Herr Liebmann is very good at this. Indulge me if you will, and we will arrive at the truth soon enough.”

“I was afraid this would be a waste of time and money,” Becker growled, thumping both fists down on the table, “and it looks like I was right. This is your fault, you incompetent ninny,” he snarled at Agricola. “If you’d done your job right, this would already be taken care of and this posturing clown could go yammer in the trees for all I care! Come, Margarethe. We’re leaving.”

Becker started to thrust himself to his feet, only to freeze halfway up when Andy spoke.

“Sit down, Herr Becker.” Andy’s voice was cold enough to freeze. “If you leave before we’ve resolved this, I’ll have your name and your precious honor reduced to shreds in all the Germanies. You started this, but I will finish it, one way or another. Now—Sit. Down.”

Agricola was white-faced, but said nothing. Schnorr seemed to be pressing himself into the back of his chair, apparently trying to hide. Becker was motionless, but Andy could see the anger coiling behind his eyes. He spoke again, letting his voice become like ice.

“The primary purpose of a court, Herr Becker, is not to determine who wins a disagreement. It is to determine the truth, and only after that, and in the light of that, determine a verdict or a judgment or an order. As attorneys, Herr Agricola and I share in that responsibility. And we are going to determine the truth today. Sit. Down.”

The last two words were intoned in dark cold tones. Becker’s gaze flinched a bit, and he slowly lowered himself into his chair. Andy held his gaze for a moment longer, then looked to Agricola and gave him a short nod. After a moment, Agricola returned it, although he was still rather pale.

“Herr Liebmann, if you would?”

Liebmann took a sketch board with attached paper from his bag, along with a handful of pencils, and moved over to sit in the empty chair beside the wide-eyed Frau Margarethe, who was staring at Andy. She jumped a little when Liebmann spoke to her, turning that wide-eyed gaze on him, and the hand that she raised to brush her hair back trembled a bit. Andy’s mouth quirked at that. He often had that effect on people.

Andy sat back and watched Liebmann work. The man was a master at this, he decided after a while. He engaged Frau Margarethe in conversation, asking her what shape her Herr Murphy’s face was, what she was first impressed by when she saw him, what his hairline was like, how bushy were his eyebrows . . .

When they got to more definite features, Liebmann had the young woman look at all the faces in the room and tell him which one’s nose was most like her lover’s. He did the same with the cheekbones, and the jawline, swiftly sketching them in lightly and making the lines darker only as she confirmed that they were right, otherwise he’d ask for clarification and redraw them. By now her father was standing behind them and watching over Liebmann’s shoulder.

It was not quite a half an hour later, Andy determined with a surreptitious look at his pocket watch, when Liebmann put the pencils down and held the sketch up before the two Beckers.

“You have a good eye, Frau Becker, and you describe things well. That’s good, or this would have taken a lot longer. Is this the man?”

She nodded, slowly at first, then faster. “Yes, yes, it is.”

Liebmann looked up at her father. “Herr Becker, you must have seen the man. Is this a good likeness?”

Becker ran his fingers through his chin whiskers a couple of times. “If I hadn’t seen you do it, I would have said this couldn’t be done. But aye, I think you’ve captured the man.” He directed a stony gaze at Andy. “Not that I know what this is in aid of.”

As Becker returned to his chair, Liebmann moved back to his own and passed the sketch to Andy, who got his first close look at it. A sense of relief flooded through him when he realized that the man in the picture was not Brendan. This was the one place where all of his plans and the structure of his defense could have come apart. If Frau Becker had somehow described Brendan, then in the pithy up-timer phrase, ‘all bets were off.’ He’d been sure it wouldn’t come to that, but there was still that small chance, and a small knot of tension in his stomach released as that possibility was eliminated.

“Christoph.”

That was all Andy said, but it was all he needed to say. The younger man was up and out the door, returning almost immediately with Brendan and Catrina behind him. Andy beckoned to them, and they moved along the table to stand behind the chairs their name cards were before. Both the Beckers were wearing bewildered expressions at the appearance of the two strangers, but Agricola seemed to have an expression of dawning realization on his face, and Schnorr was nodding with a rueful grin.

“Herr Johannes Becker, Frau Margarethe Becker, allow me to introduce to you Sergeant Brendan Murphy, and his wife, Catrina Murphy. Please be seated”

Both sets of Becker eyes widened as the Murphys sat down. Herr Becker’s gaze was that of a pole-axed steer, but Frau Margarethe’s hands had flown to her mouth, and her eyes manifested a silent scream. Andy felt a moment of pity for her, and moved on to get the brutal facts stated.

“I regret to inform you that the man you knew as Brendan Murphy was not, in fact, Sergeant Murphy, but an imposter. You have been duped—gulled, I believe was the word you used earlier, Herr Becker. And he almost certainly wasn’t an up-timer. There aren’t that many of them, and it’s pretty well known where they are.”

“But . . . the dog tag,” Agricola said after clearing his throat. “That is definitely an up-time artifact, is it not?”

“Indeed it is,” Andy said. “Sergeant Murphy?”

“There are two of them, identical,” Brendan said, “and they disappeared several months ago. I thought I had lost them, but they were obviously stolen.”

“If this is yours, you can surely explain the cryptic letters and symbols,” Agricola said, almost challenging.

“Murphy, Brendan S. is my name. The S stands for Sean, my middle name.

“The string of numbers 713-55-469 is my up-time United States of America identification number.

“A POS stands for A Positive, my blood type, in case I’m wounded and they need to give me a transfusion.” Andy almost grinned as identical expressions of nausea appeared on both women’s faces.

“And the last line states my religion. I’m Catholic.”

Andy looked at Agricola, who quirked his mouth and waved a hand in surrender. Andy looked back over at Frau Margarethe. “Frau Becker?” She looked up with a very drawn expression, pain in her eyes. “I hesitate to ask this, but I must. Did the man you knew as Brendan Murphy have a distinctive physical characteristic or marking?”

After a moment, she swallowed and nodded. “There were . . .three moles, forming a large triangle, right here.” She placed the fingers of her right hand just below her left collarbone. “He joked about God giving him a mark of the Trinity. I told him”—her voice broke—”that he was being sacrilegious. He laughed at me.” Tears started flowing, and she buried her face in her hands. Catrina got up and walked around the table to sit and take the sobbing young woman in her arms.

Andy looked at Brendan and raised his eyebrows. Brendan didn’t say anything, just stood and unbuttoned his shirt until he could open it up enough to show that there was no pattern of moles below his left collarbone. He pulled the shirt closed, buttoned it back up, and sat down.

There was silence for a long moment, then Andy said quietly, “Discovering the truth is painful sometimes, but it’s always better to know the truth, to know the facts of a situation. Frau Becker, I am sorry that you have been lied to, I am sorry that you have been a subject of fraud and deception. But your case is not with my client, the real Brendan Murphy. Your case is with the imposter that claimed to be Brendan Murphy.”

“That’s as may be,” Herr Becker said in a voice so dull it almost sounded like leaden bells, “but how do we get satisfaction from an unknown man? How do we get justice from a man we can’t identify?”

Andy passed the sketch to Brendan. “Do you know this man? This is who Frau Becker described.”

Brendan’s eyes narrowed. “I just might. This looks a lot like a guy we ran through the railroad guard training course sometime back.” He fell silent for a moment. “Yeah, and I think he was there about the time I lost the dog tags. Name was . . . Malcolm, I think. Malcolm Kinnard, if I remember correctly. And a Scot, to boot, which might explain why he could impersonate an up-timer so well. A German would have had a problem carrying it off for very long, I think.”

Both Agricola and Herr Becker sat up straight at that, and Schnorr began making notes.

“Can you tell us where he is?” Becker said in a hard voice. “I’d like to have a conversation with him.”

“I can find out,” Brendan said. “I’ll send a radiogram back to Magdeburg, after we get done. Should have an answer no later than some time tomorrow afternoon.”

And with that, the meeting seemed to be over. Catrina and Margarethe stood together and came around the table to Brendan, where she offered the dog tag back to him. “I hate to give it up, but it’s a lie to me, and it’s yours, so you should have it back.”

Brendan took it gently from her and slipped it into a pocket out of sight. The three of them stood talking for a few minutes. Andy waited for Liebmann to free the sketch sheet from the sketch board, then slid it into his document case. “Good job,” he told the artist.

“At least this time, the missing person didn’t turn up dead,” Liebmann replied. “Kind of a nice feeling, although it still didn’t bring any peace to them.” He jerked his head at the Beckers.

Andy shrugged, and moved down the table to face the others.

“You’re a hard man, Attorney Wulff,” Herr Becker said. “In keeping with your name, I suppose.”

“You deal with enough hard men,” Andy said, “and you become pretty hard yourself. And I have had to deal with men much harder than you, Herr Becker.”

“I can believe it,” Becker replied. “You handled me like a schoolboy, and that hasn’t happened in many years.”

Andy shrugged one shoulder.

Agricola reached out a hand, which Andy clasped. “Thank you for the reminder that our first responsibility is to truth. We sometimes forget that.”

“I have to remind myself just as often,” Andy said.

Catrina gave Margarethe one last hug, and Brendan and Catrina headed for the door. Everyone else gathered their things, and moved that direction. Andy waited for Christoph, so they were the last to leave the room. He smiled as he saw Herr Becker drop back beside Liebmann and ask, “Do you do portraits?”

They all moved back down the hallway, through the main part of the station building, and back out onto the platform. Andy started looking around for transportation so they could head for the rooming house.

Ahead of them, Margarethe suddenly shrieked, “It’s him! It’s him!”

Most of the crowd moved back, and Andy was able to see a young man in a railroad guard uniform frozen with a horrified expression on his face for just a moment before he spun and began running away from Margarethe through the crowd. Then he disappeared from sight. Andy hurried after, followed by Christoph and Liebmann.

The crowd had started to thicken, and Andy pushed through it to see Malcolm Kinnard lying face-down on the platform with Catrina Murphy sitting on his back and holding his left hand in what looked to be a most uncomfortable position. He started to move, and she twisted his hand a bit, which elicited a yell and he went motionless again.

Catrina looked up at Brendan with a grin. “Always knew that jujitsu would come in handy someday.”

He smiled back, then reached down with his big hands and grabbed Kinnard by one arm and the back of the neck. “You can let go, now.”

Catrina released her hold and stood up. Brendan seemed to levitate Kinnard, he was raised so quickly and was held with his toes barely touching the platform. “Malcolm Kinnard, just like I thought. I don’t like you, Kinnard,” he said. “And boy, are you in a heap of trouble.” A couple of railroad guards pushed through the crowd. “Guys, take him to the holding room, and keep him there until Herr Agricola here can contact the local law enforcement and figure out what to do with him. I doubt he’s going to be a guard much longer. And he’d better be there when we come for him, or you won’t be guards much longer, and you’ll be in as much trouble as he is. Clear?”

One on each side of Kinnard, they nodded firmly. “Yes, Sergeant Murphy,” one of them said. They led Kinnard away. The Beckers and their attorneys followed close behind.

“Well,” Andy said, “well done, both of you, both now and earlier.”

“I wanted to be angry,” Catrina said, “but when I saw that poor girl’s face when she learned the truth, I couldn’t be.”

“Never be sorry for your gift of compassion,” Andy said. “And yes, I said that. In the long run, compassion will heal a lot more lives than justice will.” He paused for a moment. “Just don’t tell anyone I said that.”

They all shared a laugh, then Brendan snapped his fingers like a pistol-shot. “I’ve got to go talk to Kinnard. I want my other dog tag back!”

Andy smiled at his client’s receding back.

****