Article Category Archives: Fiction

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.

****

Barbie and the Musicians of Bremen

Bremen

April 1635

 

“Marieke! Come here now, girl!”

Marieke cringed in her bedroom, looking out the blue curtain-framed window at what had begun as a sunny spring day. Her father’s bellow told her the day was probably getting worse rather than better.

Marieke’s stepmother quickly confirmed Marieke’s suspicions when she peered around the bedroom door with a worried look on her slender face. “Marieke, dear, your father would like a word with you in the library. Please come with me.”

At that moment, her father released another elephantine bellow from the floor below. Marieke thought she saw the painting of the flowers on the wall over her lace-covered bed quiver but surely, she told herself, she imagined it. Didn’t she?

The picture could stay calmly perched on her wall but she must follow her stepmother to confront the man calling for her. At eighteen, Marieke was very much an adult but her father still ruled the house and held sway over his unmarried daughter.

Marieke loved her sometimes bombastic father but ever since he had retired from Prince Frederick’s service a few months back, her father had been a man with no purpose. Instead of spending hours every day managing affairs for the prince, her father wandered around the house, and sometimes all of Bremen, like a rooster with no hens. That meant that he was all too free to attend to the affairs of his small family, most especially including Marieke.

Stepmother and daughter went down the wooden staircase to the richly appointed library where the red-faced bürger paced in front of a huge stone fireplace. His green silk doublet had wrinkled where his ample belly had stretched the material as he sat at his leather-topped desk. But now he was apparently too agitated for any sitting.

“Marieke, my dear, I have something I must ask you.” His whole demeanor told both daughter and wife that the man was having to make a major effort to contain himself and control his temper. He spat out his question like it tasted bad on his tongue. “I have been told that there are rumors of you still being involved with the ludicrous, demon-spawned Committee of Correspondence in town. Is this true?” Herr Knaub’s grey eyes bored into her, his ferocious beetling eyebrows framing their anger.

Herr Knaub stood in front of the unused fireplace as if he could not move until his daughter answered. Frau Knaub gasped and held her breath, waiting for Marieke’s reply. The color drained from her face and neck as Marieke pushed back her white blonde bangs, dropped her cornflower blue eyes to the wool rug under her feet and gripped the light blue skirt under her brown bodice. She had known she would have to tell her parents some time but had hoped it would be later. After all, the confrontation about the now-traveling Hans had been but four weeks back. Hardly enough time for the hurt feelings to heal. Even though she knew Hans had planned to leave and go study engineering, Marieke still blamed her father for running the young man off sooner than she wished.

All this flashed through her mind as she stood in front of her father and her stepmother wrung her own hands.

“Well? Answer me, child? Is my daughter still consorting with revolutionaries and atheists? Is this a lie by those who wish us ill?”

There was no help for it. She could not outright lie to Papa. He would find out and then, then he would not trust her. No, she must, as the up-timers said, make a clean breast of it.

“Yes, Papa, I have been spending time at the Freedom Arches in town. They are good people and have been helping the flood victims. You have always told me it is our Christian duty to help others.” Marieke could see the storm clouds suffusing her father’s face as the rest of her pitch poured from her lips. “They do so much good and they help so many people. Besides, Aunt Betlinda volunteers there, too.”

At the mention of his sister’s name, Herr Knaub became, if possible, even more enraged. His chest puffed out even further, endangering the silver buttons. “Do not use your aunt as an excuse or example of anything. That apostate holds queer ideas about life and has always been an embarrassment to this family!”

He paused to calm himself, running a pudgy paw through his thinning grey hair, pushing the once-neat shoulder-length hair back from his sweating face.

“What am I to do with you? First, you take up with a young man from a family of night soil workers. Now I find you are spending time with up-time revolutionaries. Do you not see how your actions besmirch us all? I am a man of some importance in our town! Your mother is known as a beacon of righteousness! Your brother is . . .”

Marieke could stand her father’s self-righteous tirade no longer. “My brother is a pompous, primping, two-faced lout who only cares for himself! The stories I could tell . . .”

She was ready to declare a litany of her brother’s sins and missteps when her father stopped her with a raised hand as he turned his back. “Stop now, girl, before you overstep yourself. This discussion is about you, not Ebbe! He has not been called in fault!”

Now Marieke’s face was as flushed as her father’s. “It is time to discuss him. He had no right to attack Hans and no right to say anything about how I live my life!”

“Yes, he does on both accounts. You are unmarried and still the responsibility of this household. It falls to us, your mother, brother, and I, to ensure you are able to make a good marriage when the time comes. Running with the reprobates of the CoC could dirty your reputation, making it impossible for you to find a good match short of frozen Russia or God-forsaken Ireland! No! There will be no more discussion! You will not go back to the CoC, and you will stay away from Betlinda.”

Marieke heard her stepmother sob behind her, knowing she could not reason with her enraged father. Afraid of losing her own temper beyond reason, Marieke turned and fled the room, running up the stairs to her bedroom. She slammed the door behind her and threw herself on the bed.

Whether from anger or frustration, tears filled Marieke’s eyes, dampening the down pillow she cried into. She did not want to give her father the satisfaction of hearing her cry so she pushed her face into the pillow.

What was she to do? Marieke had always wanted a true job, a true purpose. Working with the CoC gave her that purpose. She could well and truly help people who needed aid. She had been raised to be a pretty, yet vacuous housewife, a trophy for some well-heeled businessman or noble. She was trained to serve tea and social niceties. But always, even before the up-timers arrived and showed her world that women could do more, be more, she had wanted better. No, she couldn’t captain a ship to explore the world but through the CoC she could change things for the better! Couldn’t her father see this?

Maybe she could convince her stepmother . . . She and her stepmother were not close, but they also were not open enemies. Their relationship was more like two boats docked at the same port.

Aunt Betlinda would help her if she could. She understood. She herself worked with the Committees of Correspondence and had avoided the chains of marriage so she could stay free. Maybe if Marieke declared her intention of doing the same her parents would leave her alone and give up on making a marriage match for her. It was worth a try . . .

Marieke lay on her bed as the sun rays shifted and the day passed. Intent on planning her escape from matrimony, she did not hear the first few rappings on her door.

“Marieke! Marieke!” A quiet female voice called from the other side of the wooden barrier.

Her sister, Katrin, slowly opened the door and stepped halfway into the room. “Are you going to throw something at me?” Katrin’s lips curled into an impish grin. “Your row with Papa was quite impressive. I don’t want to come in if you are going to use me for pitching practice like the up-timer baseball players. Are you, or is it safe?”

“You are quite safe, Dumpling. Come in and sit with me.” Marieke was the only family member that Katrin let call her by her baby name, Dumpling. When she was young, Katrin with her round face and body did bear a passing resemblance to a potato dumpling. As she grew older, Katrin had lost most of her baby fat and with it, the baby name.

“I only caught part of what was said but it seems Papa does not agree with the way you spend your time?” Katrin had seated herself on the bed, pushing off her silk indoor shoes and putting her bare feet on the bed. Her hair was a darker blonde than Marieke’s but she had the same clear blue eyes. It being a housework day, Katrin had on some of Marieke’s hand-me-downs. At fourteen, Katrin was almost as tall as her older sister.

Marieke reached out to affectionately tug on one of Katrin’s fuzzy braids. “I think you heard enough. Papa is concerned for the household reputation and demands that I avoid the CoC.”

A sly smile spread across Katrin’s sweet face. “Yessss, I am sure he said that. I am also sure you will not do that. Am I wrong?” The smile grew to a toothy grin.

Marieke met her sister with a smile of her own as she reached for a small, clean cloth on the night stand next to the bed. She blew her nose and gave a short laugh.” You know me too well, Dumpling. I have been making other plans.”

Katrin giggled and hugged her sister. “Good for you! It is a new time and a new world. It is time that women make their own destinies and not be forced into marriages as their life’s work.”

“That is what I have been learning from Aunt Betlinda.” Marieke nodded and dabbed at her still-dripping nose.

“I am so glad to hear that! There is something I have just been dying to tell you, and it seems that now is the time.” The younger girl glowed with anticipation.

“Tell me, silly goose! What could be that important?”

Katrin drew herself up on the bed, sitting as tall as she could, patted her yellow skirt and straightened it across her knees. “Two things, actually. First, I have decided what I want to do with my life. You know I love up-timer rock and roll. I have always been able to sing.”

“Yes, and?”

“I have joined a rock and roll band as a singer.”

Marieke clapped her hands and hugged her sister. “How lovely! Have you told Mama or Papa?”

“Not yet. The band has only started rehearsing together. We have a drummer. It’s not really an up-time drum set. It is an empty ale barrel. Then we have a lutist. We hope to add a few more players in time.”

“Does your band have a name?”

“Not yet, but we are trying out several that sound like up-time bands. I can’t tell you now because it might jinx it. But I can tell you something else.”

“And what would that be? I can’t wait!”

“Well, I cannot tell you one name but I can tell you another.”

“Stop being so mysterious and tell me!” Marieke gave her sister’s arm a small shake.

“I have given myself a new name. Katrin is sooo down-timer. My name is now Barbie, like the dolls. I can’t think of another name that sounds more up-time.”

“Well, Barbie, this will definitely help my cause.” Marieke giggled and shook her head.

“Why?”

“After you tell Papa your new name he’ll be so apoplectic with anger he will forget all about me. Either that or he will feel relieved that all I want to do is talk with up-timers, not become one. So, thank you, Barbie.”

The two girls looked at each other and broke into gales of laughter.

****

 

In a barn outside Bremen

A few days later

 

The newly-renamed Barbie stood amongst a group of young male and female musicians in a large wooden barn. The only animals in attendance were a few chickens pecking the ground in search of a late lunch and four grey goats wandering among the humans cadging for treats from bags and pockets. Midafternoon sunlight slipped through the open slats here and there.

The young music makers spread themselves on the bound hay bales stacked in the center of the barn.

“Let’s get this going, shall we?” Barbie stood in the center with a tall, gangly young man a few years older than the young Knaub. His large hands emerged several inches beyond his slightly dirty cotton sleeves. His dark brown hair brushed the top of the expensive, lace-touched white collar. His up-timer jeans tucked into well-worn leather boots, and a blue patterned doublet completed his attire.

The young people scattered around him and Barbie ranged in age from thirteen to nineteen and carried a wide selection of instruments, even one or two that their instructors might not recognize as musical instruments like an ale barrel or two.

All the young eyes were fixed firmly on Barbie.

“So you want to be in an up-timer rock and roll band?” The young man scanned the musicians arrayed around him.

All the heads nodded in unison. A few shuffled their feet.

“How many of you are already in an orchestra or another group?”

Several of the young men raised their hands. The young women sat with widened eyes. One spoke up, a girl with auburn plaits wrapped around her head like a crown. “If we have not been playing with another group does that disqualify us?”

Barbie and the young man next to her, Carl, conferred quietly then turned back to the teenager. He spoke in a surprisingly deep voice. “Of course not, Brigitte. Rock and roll is about new things, breaking new ground, celebrating the music in all of us. We do ask everybody to try out so we can see how you fit n with the band. What do you play?”

She scrunched up her courage. “Recorder.”

Carl turned to the girl next to her. “And you, Gisela, was it?”

The young woman with short light brown hair smiled shyly and mumbled. “Sackbut.”

Carl continued around the loose circle, receiving a variety of answers. “Trumpet.” “Flute.” “Guitar.” “Lute.” And others.

“It sounds like we have the making of a kickin’ band!” Barbie clapped her hands in delight.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with the group talking about what up-time music they liked and getting to know each other.

****

 

The Knaub household

A little over a month later

 

Marieke heard light steps coming toward her bedroom door. She thought it might be the young maid bringing in the laundry or some other morning chore. Marieke turned back to her book. She had been reading a book copied from the Grantville library. She knew her father would not approve of the title so she hid it in her skirts when she heard steps.

The steps stopped outside her door. She slid the thin book into her skirt pocket and picked up the needlework she kept nearby.

She barely recognized the apparition that slid into the room through a half-opened door. Marieke gasped, drawing her hand across her open mouth.

“Katrin?”

Was this really her sister? Was this a joke? Marieke had never seen anyone dressed like this. It could be Katrin, or maybe not. Should she laugh or not? Frankly, she had no idea how to act.

A familiar voice called her name. “Marieke, it’s me. How do you like the new look?”

“Katrin, Barbie, whoever. What have you done? What are you wearing? Where is the rest of your hair?” Mielke did not know where to look first or what to ask. All she could do was gape.

The last time she had seen her younger sister the girl looked like many girls in Bremen. Long, braided hair with a nicely embroidered brown bodice laced over several sets of cotton skirts accented with lace on her starched blouse. Light shoes on her small feet finished the picture.

But that was this morning. Obviously, something had changed. Katrin had made a full transformation into a rock and roll diva.

Every strip of clothing Marieke could see on Barbie/Katrin was black. She wore a black stretchy turtleneck under a black leather bodice over a series of black cotton skirts. At the bottom, Marieke could see black hosen and heavy black leather boots peeking out. Her sister had cut her beautiful blonde hair! Her hair, when loose, had reached past her bottom but no longer. Now, the shiny blonde hair barely covered the girl’s ears with a straight bob. Perhaps the most shocking details danced across the black bodice –white and silver skulls grinned their way across in a macabre yet delicate chain!

“Katrin!”

“No! Please, it’s Barbie now.”

“All right, Barbie . . .” Marieke held her tongue and ran through all the things she might say.

“Marieke, will you come to our first gig? That’s what up-timers call a recital, a gig. It will be so much fun! We are going to play real up-timer rock and roll songs! It is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me! Please, say you will be there! Please!”

“I don’t know, Ka . . . Barbie. No, I will be there. Girls have to stick together, right?” Marieke stood up and walked over to her dark-clad sister and hugged her.

****

 

Bremen, Rathaus

Morning, September, 1635

 

Betlinda Knaub paused, took a deep breath, and sailed into the office of the Bürgermeister und Präsident des Senats, as the mayor of Bremen had been known for centuries. The occupant wasn’t the man known from the histories—he’d fled with the prince-bishop. The new officeholder was a widowed functionary named by Prince Friedrich, a man named Emil Jauch who was from a famous family in Hamburg. He was stout, and in the warm weather of early September, he was florid and sweating through his expensive red silk doublet.

“And what may I do for you, Frau Knaub?” Herr Jauch unfurled one of his broader smiles to welcome Betlinda into his office.

“I have an important treat to offer the citizens of Bremen. You will recall the story of the ‘Musicians of Bremen’?”

“Yes, and I just was overseeing the placement of the statue that is based on the up-time photo of the statue they say stood in the Rathausplatz in their time. It is near the holy statue of the paladin Roland.”

Betlinda smiled back. “We have a group of young people, what the up-timers call ‘teenagers,’ who have formed a musical group, a band, and they call themselves the Musicians of Bremen. They would like to perform for the city.”

“Well, I hope their musicianship is better than the cat, the dog, the rooster, and the donkey!” Jausch thought his witticism the height of humor and let loose a friendly guffaw.

“They would like to perform in the Rathausplatz next month. May we have your permission?”

“What kind of music do they play?”

“Music to dance a brawl by.”

Jausch leered at Betlinda, who was a very good-looking older woman. “Do you dance a brawl, Frau Knaub?”

“Oh, call me Betlinda, and may I call you Emil? Yes I love a good brawl. If you approve the concert, I will surely save a dance for you!”

Jausch grinned, and stood. Beneath his doublet he was wearing up-timer blue jeans, stuffed into high brown boots. He held his hand out and she shook it. “You have your concert, Betlinda. I hope they are good.”

“I’m sure you will see . . . they play up-timer rock and roll!”

****

 

Bremen town square

An early October evening in 1635

 

Between the statue of Roland and the new statue of the Musicians of Bremen, the assembled townspeople shuffled their feet as they sat on every available space. Those still standing pressed forward to see the stage lit by candles and torches. Vendors wove their way through the crowd with sweets, mulled wine and pastries. Mothers tossed their little ones on their laps to keep them amused while everyone waited for the new music.

The crowd held people of all ages, from babies in arms to almost toothless grandfathers. Several shopkeepers had rolled carts outside where they peddled ale and brats, pretzels and candies. Everyone wanted to be at Bremen’s first rock and roll concert!

Several fires had been lit on either side of the low wooden stage. Some people had brought out candles in holders they held or stood upright in the dry ground. An array of instruments was arranged as if waiting for their musicians. There was a lute, a harpsichord, a clavichord, a sackbut, a dudelsack, a recorder on a stand, a guitar, and even several ale barrels of varying sizes arranged in a circle.

Then a tall, young man took the stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you . . . Barbie and the Musicians of Bremen!” The tall man in his late twenties stood in the middle of a raised platform, surrounded by an array of musical instruments. The silver buttons and chains strewn across his black leather jacket, pants, and boots reflected back the flickering candlelight.

The audience watched as a procession of young musicians filed onto the stage and took up their instruments. A burly teenage male pulled up a straw bale behind the well-used ale kegs and started a backbeat. The rest of the musicians picked up their instruments. As the rest got going, Barbie in her blackest finery danced on stage, pounding a tambourine. She got into the first song—Geboren in Bremen. The few citizens who had heard up-time music and any up-timers in the crowd would recognize the tune as “Born on the Bayou.”

Barbie belted it out at the bottom end of her sweet alto register. The male harpsichordist joined in on the chorus, adding more depth. All the musicians, male and female, got lost in the tune and missed the hoots and calls from the attending family and friends. Some of the instruments were a little too light to be easily heard but all the musicians played, letting the music flow through their instruments.

One clump of listeners stood in shock near the back of the crowd. Herr and Frau Knaub stood flanked by their son, Ebbe, and several retainers. Silence swathed the small party as Herr Knaub’s face grew redder and redder. His wife kept glancing between her husband and the stage where his youngest sang and banged her tambourine as if the world were ending.

The scrawny, ginger-haired young man, Gunter, made his dudelsack sing like a moaning cow. Gilbert, in a dapper dark blue doublet with embroidered skeleton edging, played counterpoint on the harpsichord with a strong backbeat, echoed by blonde, chunky Metta on the flute. Other teens joined in on guitar, clavichord, sackbut and underneath it all like a giant heart was Bernhardt of the massive arms, the smith’s son, pounding the driving beat while sweat poured off his dark curls.

Marieke and Aunt Betlinda sat on a bale at the front of the audience where Barbie could see them. Shortly after the music started she saw them drawn along by the musical flood with the rest of the increasingly appreciative crowd.

By the end of the first song, the happy Bremenites were clapping and stomping, their legs carrying them through polkas and simple stomps, as they made largely unsuccessful attempts at singing along with the rousing chorus.

The song stopped, and Barbie swiftly swung the Musicians of Bremen into their next one, “Stolz Maria” or “Proud Mary” to the English speakers. Nobody seemed to care too much about the words as the young band carried the song to a rousing crescendo.

The Musicians of Bremen kept up their concert, bewitching the town square. By the end of an hour of up-time-based songs their black costumes were drenched in sweat, and the townspeople were dancing on and around the bales, with ersatz polka and waltz steps and some that resembled nothing more than an outright brawl.

Halfway through the gig, the Musicians of Bremen took a few minutes to grab some water and air. A few audience members had left, mumbling, “Devil’s music” and “Never want to hear that again!” But most of the townsfolk, of all ages, were just catching their breath and waiting for another round. They were saying things like, “Best polka I ever heard!” or “I haven’t danced a brawl that good in a long time!” The children universally took advantage of the chance to dance unabashedly across the square with their parents using more traditional steps. The older people seemed split, with a few leaving, complaining this must be devil-inspired, but most staying to clap hands and tap toes.

As soon as Barbie felt the band members could hit a beat again, she started into the second half. Now the audience was ready for them. There was no hesitation as there had been at the beginning of the first set. Bernhardt, sweat plastering his light linen shirt to his body like a wet second skin, hit the top of his ale barrel and everyone was on their feet.

The Musicians of Bremen kept the crowd dancing through several more songs ending with a fully German version of “It’s Only Rock and Roll But I Like It.” All the band members not playing an instrument that required their mouths joined in on the final chorus.

Then, just as suddenly as the music started it stopped. The young players were so tired they resembled nothing more than clockwork figures that had merely run down. Sweat dripped off their clothes and hair. They seemed almost too tired to hold their instruments. The crowd milled about, exhausted but too energized to stop talking. Nothing like this had ever been seen in Bremen!

The susurrus of the crowd rolled across the square. Then, one voice, one word, resounded from the back of the happy crowd. “Katrin!!!”

Herr Knaub, looking like an expanded red balloon, stood staring at his bedraggled youngest daughter. Her stepmother sat on the bale next to him, fanning her face with a Spanish lace fan.

Barbie was still on the stage, chattering happily with her band mates. Her father’s voice cut through everything, dragging her attention to the other end of the square where he stood, ready to explode.

She looked at each of the other musicians then stepped off the platform and headed toward her family. Barbie walked past where Marieke and Aunt Betlinda stood.

Marieke grabbed and hugged her as she drew near. “That was wonderful! You were wonderful l!”

“That you were, my girl!” Betlinda stood nearby, beaming with pride. “I have not had that much enjoyment in ages!” Her greying braids frayed where the hair had escaped as if to better enjoy the music. Her embroidered brown dirndl was unfashionably damp.

Fully aware that her father still loomed at the back of the milling crowd, Barbie hugged them and promised to talk more later. Then she headed to meet her father.

“Papa! Did you enjoy the show?” Barbie cast her lot by pretending she did not see her father’s impending explosion.

“Katrin, we MUST talk.” The words seemed to push their way past his clenched jaw rather than being propelled.

“Wasn’t it marvelous!?” Barbie looked from her father to her stepmother, even glancing at Ebbe who loomed at the back of the family. She hoped her status as youngest daughter would protect her from the worst of Herr Knaub’s ire.

“Not the words I would choose, Katrin. We will discuss this at home. In private.” With that he turned to his wife and then Ebbe. “Enough of this for now. We are all going home now. You, too, Katrin.” Herr Knaub walked off, somehow seeming to stomp without actually doing so, followed by his wife and son.

Ebbe grinned maliciously at Barbie as he pulled up the rear of the small procession. He had always been jealous of her. Barbie figured this was his chance to become the favored one. Fine with her! She never wanted to be a pampered princess. She wanted to have a real life! She was going to be a rocker! Imagine! The first down-time rock diva!

****

 

The Knaub Household

Later that evening

 

Barbie walked slowly up to the front door of her brightly illuminated home. Light poured out of the windows on the first and second floors.

This told her everything she needed to know, or feared, about her father’s anger. Normally, the house would be dark at this time of night. Maybe Old Albruna would be in the kitchen baking the morning’s pastries. But Barbie had never seen the house lit up like a lantern this late. Maybe she should wander outside for a while, hoping her father would fall asleep, and everyone else would follow.

Barbie started to move away from the ornately carved front door and back into the late night shadows. Too late.

Unseen, Ebbe had stationed himself at the library window as lookout. “Katrin, Father is looking for you.” His voice boomed out across the front yard like a foghorn.

As if waiting for the right sign, her stepmother swept out the front door, directly at Barbie. “Katrin, we were all so worried. Where have you been? You are still dripping wet and in this cool air, too.”

Before she could physically drag Barbie in the doorway, Herr Knaub’s voice reverberated through the house, out the windows and down the lane toward town. Somewhere in the back of her mind Barbie wondered if the band members could hear him, too. “Katrin!”

Barbie felt herself being dragged, gently, by her stepmother into the house and down the hallway to the library where her father radiated anger like some ancient battle lord. Her stepmother waited for Barbie to get all the way into the library and then left her standing in front of her father, who was also standing.

“Katrin. You are to begin a new life tomorrow. Or rather, you are to return to being my beloved daughter. I do not know this skull-bespangled, black-draped apparition that shrieks in public. This is not my Katrin! I demand to have my Katrin returned to me! With the morning light! Am I clear?” All of that he had ejected in what seemed like one breath. Then, with a deep “Hrumph!” he sat in his red leather desk chair with air of a king who has just made a kingdom-wide pronouncement. His dark grey eyes bore into her blue ones.

Barbie was silent, stunned by her father’s reaction. She had expected him to be upset but she had never seen him this angry. What should she say? What should she do? What could she say or do? She loved her rock and roll. How could she make him understand? This was who she was, what she wanted to be. No words came.

“Well, Katrin, you are home now, and the morning will see the return of my girl. You may go to bed now but make no mistake. I do not want to see you like that again. Am I understood?” The anger seemed to have bled away a little bit but Barbie could still hear the steel in her father’s words. With that, he waved his hand, motioning her towards the door. Then he put his head in his hands, feeling the anger replaced by exhaustion.

Barbie turned and left, climbing the stairs to her room. She noticed Ebbe and her stepmother had vacated the hallways. Where was Marieke? Barbie told herself she hoped she was already out of the way of their father’s temper.

Once in her room, Barbie disrobed, secreting her precious outfit away where, she hoped, no one could find it. She knew her father would order one of the servants to search her room for it so she planned to take it to one of the band members’ houses in the morning. Then she curled up in her bed, falling swiftly into an exhausted sleep.

****

Sure enough, Barbie woke as Old Albruna rummaged through her closet, obviously looking for something. Barbie noticed that various piles of clothes had been moved since the night before.

“Young Katrin, Guten Tag! I am looking for your dirty clothes. It is wash day and, after your raucous night, I suspect you have at least a few things to wash, do you not?” The old woman continued to cast her eyes across Barbie’s room as if the offending clothing would raise its hand to be recognized and collected.

Barbie thought quickly. She hated lying, but it had taken quite an effort to get that outfit together and if it went with Old Albruna she knew it would disappear. Her father would have already ordered it to be destroyed. No! She would not give up her dream so easily!

“I changed elsewhere before I came home and left last night’s clothes elsewhere.” She hoped the old woman would not check her story with anyone who had seen Barbie come home.

“Ach! Well, bring them home for cleaning when you go out. There are fresh buns in the kitchen for your breakfast, so come on, sleepyhead.” Old Albruna had been with the family since before Barbie was born so she could take such liberties with the young mistress.

Albruna bustled out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her. Barbie knew she couldn’t hide much longer in her room. She had to get up and out. She had to figure out what to do. Besides, by looking at the height of the sun, she realized it was mid-morning. Someone had decided to let her sleep in. Could this be a good sign? She could hope, couldn’t she?

She slipped out from under the voluminous, cream-colored comforter with a small whimper. The chill in the air caught her by surprise. Barbie wrapped a woven woolen blanket around her so she could perform her morning ablutions without shivering. Albruna or someone had brought a pitcher of clean water and set it next to the basin on her washtable. It could not have been too long before because a slight trail of steam still rose from it.

Barbie started to wash her face then stopped, startled by the image in her looking glass. Was that her with the huge black circles around her eyes? Oh, that was it . . . She had gone to bed so late and upset she had forgotten to take off her rocker makeup. Giggling at herself, Barbie started scrubbing her face, removing makeup and sweat alike. She would have to remember to wash after the shows, she told herself. If there were any more shows . . .

There had to be more shows! She would find a way no matter what it took! She had never felt more alive, more right! She knew the chill she felt now had less to do with a fall morning and much more to do with last night. The first night of her life as a rocker.

As she dried her face and pawed at her newly shorn hair with a wooden comb, Barbie began gathering her thoughts and strength for the battle ahead with her Papa. Surely he wanted her to be happy. Couldn’t he see this made her happy? She had to show him, convince him, that this was the best for her. But how? He was a traditionalist. He believed that the best thing for his girls was to marry well. Ebbe could do as he liked, but she and Marieke must obey Papa. That is what he believed.

And where was Marieke?? She should have heard from her by now. Normally, Marieke would have woken her, refusing to let her sleep so late. Oh well, that’s a question for later . . .

She silently argued her case to her clean-scrubbed image in the glass. The Ring of Fire had changed everything! The up-timers showed us women could do and be something other than hausfraus with retinues of servants. Look at Rebecca and Gretchen, the heroines who were changing the world! They did get married but they were not tied down to a house like a horse to a plow. Oh, no! She would be free, too!

Barbie felt her courage slowly creeping back in when someone knocked on her door. “Katrin dear, are you ready to come downstairs? Everyone else is up.” Her stepmother knocked again, this time a little harder.

Guten Morgen! I am up and dressing. Give me a few more minutes to properly prepare myself.” Barbie wanted to stick her tongue out in rebellion at the door but didn’t. She was above such childish displays. Besides, she must prepare herself to be a rock diva, and surely rock divas did not partake of such displays!

Listening to make sure the older woman walked back down the hallway, Barbie checked for her hidden clothing. She moved her painted dresser and found the now-dirty black bundle where she had placed it last night. “Good! I still have my rocker clothing!” She threw a glance around as if someone might have snuck in while her back was turned then returned the bundle and the dresser.

Under her breath Barbie mumbled, “I guess I must play the good girl at home and dress the part. But there is no growing my hair back overnight so I guess he will have to accept that part of me.”

She pulled on a blue skirt with yellow edging, a white linen blouse and her old dark blue bodice with embroidered edelweiss. “Don’t you look like the proper fraulein now?” Barbie allowed herself one display of tongue extension at the neatly-dressed girl she saw in her looking glass. “Papa will just LOVE you!”

She turned around, opened the door and walked into the hallway to meet today’s fate.

She had not even reached the bottom of the stairs before her father bellowed, “Katrin, please come to the library.”

Marvelous! He was not going to even let her break her fast before commencing with the lecture. Just great! Well, at least she looked the way he wanted her to look. He couldn’t complain about that. Except her hair.

Barbie walked down the hall to the already crowded library. An odd tableau met her view. Walking in she wasn’t surprised to see her father in his usual leather throne. But what did surprise her was who else awaited her. Aunt Betlinda, Marieke, and the Bürgermeister und Präsident des Senats himself! What was his name? Somebody Jausch . . . Never mind! What was happening?

All except her father seemed happy to see her. The bürgermeister stood in his warm fur-lined red doublet beatifically surveying the scene. Aunt Betlinda and her sister grinned like, like cats out of that up-timer book Alice in Wonderland. Aunt Betlinda kept looking, sidelong, at Herr Jausch and smiling in a peculiar way. Her father smiled with that tight-around-the eyes expression she had seen him use when he was avoiding telling the prince a hard truth. All too odd! What was happening? And what did they want with her?

Herr Knaub started to speak. “My dear Katrin, the bürgers . . .”

Before he could finish the sentence Herr Jausch broke in, offering his hand to Barbie as if she were a princess. “Katrin or Barbie, I must tell you I and my family thoroughly enjoyed your performance last night! I and my darling wife danced like we were bewitched! You and your band must perform again and often! That is why I am here.” He seemed to have completely forgotten Herr Knaub, now standing at the desk looking forlorn.

The bürgermeister continued to hold Barbie’s small hand in his large, somewhat hairy one. “The bürgers met right after the performance. None of us could have slept so soon after that invigorating music, could we? So we voted and decided that you and the Musicians of Bremen must be asked to perform at least once a month in Bremen. Your band will set Bremen apart from all the other towns, nay cities, in Germany! We will be the envy of the others because we have a real up-time style rock band! We will be the talk of Europe! We will have real Musicians of Bremen!”

As he talked the bürgermeister spoke faster and faster, obviously warming up to his topic. Meanwhile, Herr Knaub became more and more deflated. What was he to do? He could defy the bürgers and require Katrin live a life of quiet anonymity, or he could please the bürgers, and probably his prince who wanted to please the bürgers, and let her become that wild thing.

Finally, Herr Knaub could hold quiet no longer. “Sir, we are greatly honored by your offer . . .”

“Herr Knaub, this not an offer as such. Please consider this as more of a request. Barbie and the Musicians of Bremen are the most exciting thing to come out of Bremen in many generations. We do not believe what these young people are doing should be lost or go elsewhere. They are Bremen-bred and the whole world should know it!”

Barbie could not believe her ears! Not only did the town like their music, they wanted more! She noticed her Aunt Betlinda said nothing, but the grin on her face could not have been wider. She was enjoying this moment way too much! What part had she played in this scenario? Marieke stood behind Betlinda, grinning widely.

Herr Knaub gave up. He knew from long experience with the bürgers that he could not outtalk this one. He needed time to consider his options. He did not like being shoved into allowing Katrin to become a whirling, screeching display. Even if it would be good for his beloved Bremen.

“Indeed, Herr Bürgermeister, it was a long night for us all. As you can see, Katrin is as startled by your reaction to the performance as I am. I need some time to talk with her.”

Seeing he was not to get an immediate approval, the bürgermeister‘s face clouded over but he hung on to the remains of his smile. “Of course, we can understand, Herr Knaub. But please do not keep us waiting long. We want to publicize our jewel as soon as possible. The Christmas season is pressing close, and we would want to draw in visitors at least once during that time.”

He turned his attention back to Barbie, her hand still caught in his grasp. “Barbie, I hope that you can prevail on your esteemed father to do the best for his city.” With that, he leaned down, kissed her hand, bowed to the other women present and processed out into the hall, where someone led him to the door.

The air seemed to rush back into the library with the bürgermeister‘s exit. Herr Knaub fell rather than sat into the leather seat behind the desk. No one spoke.

He seemed to not know whom to glare at first, torn between Barbie and Aunt Betlinda. Herr Knaub had forgotten Marieke was still in the room, half-hidden behind an elaborately detailed clock.

“Is this your doing, Betlinda?” Herr Knaub spit out the words like they tasted bad. Now he only had room to glare at his sister.

“Not quite. He only asked me to come along because he suspected that you might not welcome the idea. Everyone DID hear you last night, after all. But now I must return home. I have some duties to attend to, and . . .”

“And you are done sticking your meddlesome nose in my family’s life for today, aren’t you?” It was a good thing that he could not really throw daggers out of his eyes, or he would have been charged with sororicide. At the moment, the penalty would not have distracted him. He was beyond furious with his older sister. She denied it, but he knew she had some guilt in this matter.

Enough time to deal with her later. For now, he was in a quagmire with Katrin. He needed time to think. “So be it, Betlinda. You have most certainly done enough here for now. But know, this matter is not done.”

Betlinda took that as her cue to leave, taking Marieke with her. Marieke seemed perfectly content to leave and put distance between herself and an exploding father.

That only left Barbie standing in front of her father. She had no idea what to say or do. She began the morning expecting it to go one way and something happened. But what? What would her father say! Would he allow her to openly play rock and roll? Would he demand she remain his Katrin?

Time stood still as Barbie stood in front of her temporarily silent Papa. The tall clock ticking was the only sound in the room for more breaths than she noticed. Both people were lost in their own thoughts.

Then Herr Knaub broke the silence with his quiet hammer of a voice. “What am I to do?”

****

Small is Good

Nürnberg City Hall

April, 1635

 

“You can’t be serious?” Master Grünberg just couldn’t believe his ears. “You really want to leave all rifles to these . . . these . . . people?” His voice sounded like what he really wanted to say was “northern barbarians,” but in the end, his sense of propriety had taken over.

Ratsherr Hans Petzold, a famous master goldsmith and member of the city council, tried to calm him. “Listen, Master Grünberg, it’s a temporary measure. We currently cannot compete with Suhl and Magdeburg on rifles. With our traditional methods it simply takes too long to produce a single one, and even if ours are prettier, there aren’t many noblemen left that are willing to wait that long and able to pay twice the price just for a pretty exterior. If we are lucky, they buy their guns in Suhl and then ask us to ‘improve’ on it. Until we get the needed machines produced in Essen, we will have to learn and pass the time by making handguns. Small is good, for now. Getting all the information on the necessary steps to reproduce the new Dutch pepperboxes was expensive enough. Let’s not waste that investment. We have an order for 600 of them from a cavalry regiment in Berchtesgaden. That’s enough work for all of us to keep busy for months.”

Ferdinand Grünberg shook his grey head. “If you want to go ahead and concentrate on those pistols, fine. They sure are impressive and effective weapons. But I have been a Büchsenmacher all my life. Long rifles are my specialty and I will continue making them.”

“You will go broke making them.”

“Let that be my problem. I am 55 years old, a widower, and I do not have an heir. I have saved enough over the last dozen years to last me for ages. So I’ll let you gentlemen worry about your own affairs. Look at it this way: Now the 600 ordered pistols will employ everyone else even longer. Good night to you.”

For a moment, the Ratsherr was tempted to involve his colleagues to make it a formal order. But in the end he figured Grünberg was right: it did mean more work for everyone else.

 

Nürnberg, Grünberg house

April, 1635

 

The next morning at sunrise, Master Grünberg sat at his table at the window, studying all the papers he had been able to acquire on the topic of up-time rifles, thanks to the efforts of a former apprentice of his who now was a journeyman in Suhl. He went through them one by one, stopping after each page, considering what he had seen and how it related to what he already knew. From time to time his eyes moved to the remains of an up-time shotgun he had bought cheaply last week. The stock and lock were still in very good shape, but some giant seemed to have squashed the two barrels. He got up and put the distracting thing into a bag that he put on a shelf, then sat down again.

He was halfway through the stack when Matthias Heckler, his journeyman, entered the workshop, with their single apprentice tagging along. Moritz Maus was fourteen and in his second year of apprenticeship. An orphan at age twelve, he very rarely smiled, almost as rarely as his master. As always, Heckler had bought fresh bread rolls and a couple of broadsheets.

“Good morning, Master Grünberg!”

“Good morning, Matthias. Moritz.”

As he had done every day for the last years, Heckler put the bread rolls and the broadsheets on the table, then went downstairs to the shortest of the three dry caves that reached into the stone of the mountain Nürnberg castle was built upon, to fetch some cool milk and cheese. The longest one served as Grünberg’s shooting range (with the ‘range’ part being defined rather loosely), while the third was used for storing his black powder and guns. Meanwhile, Moritz set the table.

They were eating in silence, Matthias and Moritz reading the broadsheets, Master Grünberg continuing through his bundle of sheets on up-time guns. Once he was through with them, he looked at his journeyman.

“Anything important happening in the world?”

“Not really. But after his fifth beer someone who shall not be named told me yesterday evening that Master Kotter is making progress with his cartridge project. It seems the trick is to use just the right amount of silver in the mix and to seal them with shellac when the cartridge is completed, to keep the bullet more firmly in place and the powder dry.”

“So, how close is he to be able to actually produce workable brass cartridges?”

“Pretty close, I think, as long as we are talking about small numbers. From what I gathered, they need a lot of soldering and other work to come out right, and he still has to buy the primers from Grantville. So he will be hard-pressed to compete with U.S. Waffenfabrik once they get their production facility up and running. It’s frustrating, really. Whenever one of us has a bright idea, we get trumped by up-timer technology.”

Master Grünberg looked out of his window and down to the wall. “Maybe. And maybe not. If I understood you correctly last week, the Suhl people will have a few production lines, concentrating on cartridges for their most common guns.”

Heckler nodded. “That is my understanding, at least. These machines are really expensive. So you need to produce large batches to pay for them.”

“Which means that all that Master Kotter needs are small series of special guns he can concentrate on.” Grünberg frowned slightly. Then he picked through the bunch of sheets he had looked through before. Slowly, a grin started creeping up his face. Heckler raised an eyebrow.

” ‘Small is good’ said our revered Ratsherr yesterday. I think he might be partially right. Just not in the way he thinks about it. Let’s go to the arsenal.”

****

Like many weaponsmiths, Grünberg had elected to pay most of his taxes to the city by equipping the city guard with weapons. His specialty in this respect had been, for a long time, all kinds of Hakenbüchsen. Those were huge rifles (unlike their earlier smoothbore predecessors of the same name which became known as harquebuses in French), about two yards long, which would be used as wall guns. Those were either equipped with trunnions that could be locked to swivel mounts on city walls or with hooks (Haken) or spikes that could be rammed into the top of an earthen rampart to keep the weapon there and transfer the enormous recoil into the earth instead of the shoulder of the user. Most of Grünberg’s guns were especially long and had both options; they were thus called Doppelhaken. Unlike many of his colleagues in other cities, he had rather soon, after some experimentation to find the optimal bullet, settled on a single bore size and caliber of balls. His guns thus had very similar performance profiles.

Traditionally, those very precise guns were used to snipe at enemy generals (who rarely came into range of the walls any more, though) and, more importantly, sappers and the crews of siege guns and mortars. At five hundred yards, the heavy bullets the gun fired could still cut through most provisional fortifications put up by enemy sappers. Recently however, Hauptmann Reinhold Gerber, captain of the city watch and an old friend of Grünberg, had told him that due to the increased range of the USE artillery, his Hakenbüchsen had lost most of their tactical value and they would soon have to require him to deliver normal rifles instead. Grünberg had been rather upset when he received that news.

Sure, he could easily afford to pay his taxes in cash and not even feel any effects. This was not about money; it was about pride. The pride of a man who had until recently made some of the best rifles in the world and now was relegated to amateur status. That would be hard to accept for anybody. For Grünberg, whose only wife had died giving birth to a stillborn son years ago, his work was all he had left. By now, though, he started to suspect that that dark cloud had a huge silver lining to it. Or was it a golden lining?

***

As Grünberg had expected, Hauptmann Gerber was at the city arsenal, inspecting part of the weaponry. Since the guard was well-acquainted with the master weaponsmith, he had no problem being admitted, while Matthias and Moritz waited at the entrance.

Gott zum Gruße, Hauptmann Gerber!” Given that he visited his friend in his official capacity, there was no way he would address him by his given name.

Gerber raised his eyebrows for a moment, then smiled. He knew Grünberg well enough to understand the reason for the formality and to feel that he had overcome his righteous anger at Gerber’s decision not to employ Hakenbüchsen any longer.

“Master Grünberg. A pleasure to see you here. How can I help you?”

“I wanted to talk with you about my Hakenbüchsen.” He held up a hand. “No, don’t worry. I am not trying to convince you to keep them in service when they can’t perform their task any longer.”

“That is very understanding of you. So what about these guns?”

“Well, you know, you might not have much use for them anymore. But when making them I gave them my very best, each time. Every single one of them is worthy of a master, I think.”

“No doubt about that. It really is a shame they have lost their defensive value for us. And of course they are too heavy to use in the field.”

“Still, they are my children and I don’t want to see them melted down to make muskets out of them—or pistols for that Scottish colonel. So I want to buy them back.”

Gerber grinned. “Hm. So you mean to pay the taxes you avoided by giving us the guns?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You got years of good service out of them. A decade, for some of them. No, I am going to pay you what you’d get from a metal collector.”

Gerber considered the demand, but only for a moment. While not a guild in the formal sense, the weapon makers were quite influential in the city. Having good relations with them was especially important for the city watch. Given the insult Grünberg must have felt when he was informed of the new tactical realities, this offer was the perfect way for all concerned to save face. And if the deal lost the city council a few thaler, it was still worth it.

Einverstanden. Last time I checked, there were 24 of your long guns here at the arsenal. Let’s see if we can find them all . . .

****

After Matthias and Moritz had dragged a little wagon filled with the guns up the hill to Grünberg’s house, they took the time for a second breakfast, consisting of a glass of beer, some bread, and a little bacon.

“So what are your plans for these guns, Master Grünberg?”

“Plans?”

“Don’t look at me like that. I have known you for years now. You are up to something.”

Grünberg only smiled in response. It always had been difficult to keep a secret from Matthias, but by now it was near impossible. So he simply put a sheet of paper in front of the two. Moritz whistled when he finally understood what he saw.

“That is a pretty big gun,” was all he could say. And he was right. The 1918 T-Gewehr was a big gun. For a shoulder-fired weapon, the first anti-tank rifle in the world was simply massive. Still shorter than a Doppelhaken, though.

“We’ll start smaller. As I said: small is good.”

“Say rather ‘small is relative,’ ” intervened Matthias. “If I understand you correctly, you want to transform your Doppelhaken in something like an up-time sniper rifle, modeled after this monster?”

“Exactly. After all, they are the closest thing we have to sniper rifles down-time. The barrels are already there, and rifled all in the same identical caliber. I did a quick check of the two oldest ones while you were washing your hands. They were well cared for, and their steel barrels still look perfect. That’s most of the work already done. Now we simply need to add on the other parts to transform them into reliable breechloaders able to shoot brass cartridges.”

Moritz snorted. “Simply.”

“The T-Gewehr is really a simple weapon. Ingenious in its details, but simple. Which is why I chose it as a model.” Grünberg smiled again. In fact, he might have smiled as often today as he had during most of the year to this date. Thus was the power of inspiration.

Matthias had a more practical concern: “Let’s say we are able to complete these ‘small’ versions of that monster. Though, if I understand these numbers here right, unless we cut down your Doppelhaken a lot, the end result won’t be any smaller than that. A little more slender, maybe, but possibly even heavier. Bigger caliber, definitely, though with black powder it will be less powerful overall. And let’s assume you get Master Kotter to make brass cartridges for them. The question remains: Who do you want to sell them to? Our city guard won’t want them, especially after you tricked old Gerber to sell them to you for scrap value. The USE Army and the SoTF National Guard have their own sniper rifles. But if we sell those to Bavaria, in addition to the pistols, we might start a war of annexation by the USE. Then there is Bohemia, but I think Wallenstein wants to build up his own, independent weapons industry to compete with us, so he is out, too. Who does that leave?”

“Salzburg, Tyrol, or—most likely—Swabia. More precisely, the Count of Hohenrechberg. My masterpiece as a journeyman was a hunting rifle for his father, so he should know my work. They are basically next door, and he is building a nice little army in his part of the province. As the official head of a provincial military force, he might even  have simplified access to Grantville technology. More importantly, as vice-administrator, he controls most of the ironworks of the Aalen area. We are already getting more iron from them than from our traditional suppliers in the Oberpfalz. They are planning to modernize their foundries soon, in order to produce serious amounts of high quality steel. So I can see lots of potential for cooperation in future weapons projects.”

“Like a real T-Gewehr, you mean?” Matthias deadpanned, his amusement still shining through his eyes.

Moritz couldn’t help himself, he had to jump up and clap his hands together. “Yes!” he cried out, with the biggest smile anybody had ever seen on his face.

Maybe small wasn’t that good, all things considered, thought Master Grünberg.

****

“After two bottles of my best wine, Master Kotter is on board. In fact, he is as enthusiastic about the project as Moritz,” Grünberg told his crew the next morning with a wink. “Now, I showed you yesterday how to separate the barrels and how to shorten them. Moritz, the remainder of the week you will separate as many of them as you can. Matthias will help you with the first two. After that, he will cut them down to the right length. Meanwhile, I will work on a related project.”

“A related project?” asked Matthias.

“I think I found a good use for the cut-offs. Not telling yet. You’ll find out soon enough, if it works.”

Matthias looked at a bag sitting on Grünberg’s workbench. “I guess the content of that bag is related to your new project?”

“Right you are. But I’ll take both the cut-offs and that bag with me downstairs.” Grünberg had a second workroom on the underground level attached to the caves. It got lots of light, especially during the afternoon hours, and he used it when he wanted some quiet and could count on Matthias to keep an eye on Moritz upstairs. “Get to work!”

****

By Saturday afternoon, Moritz had detached all twenty-four barrels, and Matthias had cut down most of them from slightly over seven feet to about five feet, when Master Grünberg called them downstairs to his shooting range. On the shooter’s table, they could see something under a big piece of cloth. Strangely, at the end of the short range stood not the usual target, but an old, worm-eaten table lying on the side, top towards them.

“Please put on your ear protectors,” Grünberg ordered.

Once everybody, including himself, had his ears covered, he picked up the package and stepped behind the bar separating the entrance area from the shooting range proper. When he dropped the cloth, his back still covered its contents from sight.

BOOM! Crack! BOOM! Crack!

The whole cave was reverberating from the two blasts that had come within half a second—and the table that had served as a target was reduced to splinters. Grünberg turned back to his team and looked into wide-open eyes and even wider mouths. “What . . .” both started asking, then stopped, looking at the small object in Grünberg’s hand.

Grünberg grinned, pushed on a button, snapped the weapon open and turned it upside down. Two big brass cartridges, still smoking, dropped to the ground. “Given the unusual caliber, Master Kotter found it easier to start with shotgun shells. The up-timers call this a coach gun, I think. While they used longer barrels, at short range the one-inch caliber is devastating enough, as you have witnessed. And for every sharpshooter, an observer would need an easily-portable weapon of his own. Matthias took in the gun, especially its broad but short barrels—at one foot long they were closer to those of a contemporary cavalry pistol than a real shotgun. Well, you could still call it a sawed-off version of a shotgun. Then he looked at the stock and lock more closely. “Is that . . .”

Grünberg nodded. “Yes. The remains of the up-time shotgun I bought. Its caliber was close enough that I could get it to fit after some fiddling. Wouldn’t hold the pressures of an up-time smokeless cartridge, but as you have seen, I got it to fit closely enough that outgassing is not a problem. So what do you think?”

He looked at Moritz who was still standing there, eyes wide, but with another huge grin now spreading across his face.

Maybe small was good, after all?

****

Master Kotter and Ratsherr Petzold are historic down-timers.

Everyone else is invented or a blend of different down-timers.

A contemporary Doppelhaken from Suhl can be seen here: http://www.engerisser.de/Bewaffnung/weapons/Doublehackbut.html

Master Grünberg’s guns would be a little longer, but not much.

****

 

The Monster Society: From the Ashes

Henrietta crossed the muddy yard between the house and the barn, weaving back and forth to avoid the worst of the puddles. It was barely an hour past dawn, and already she was exhausted. No matter how hard she tried to put the Monster Society and the loss of Ray out of her head, she had lain awake all night thinking of things she might have done differently—things she might have done that would have saved him.

She ducked into the barn and stood for a moment, letting her eyes adjust to the dim light. It was warmer than the yard, at least. The ox and pigs gave off heat, and the hay in the loft above held it in, even when the wind whispered against the roof.

Henrietta tucked her braid up under her cap and grabbed the two-pronged pitchfork from beside the door. On any other day she might have been resentful of doing this work alone and the knowledge that she might not be able to see her friends. But with Ray gone, she no longer had friends, and the work was at least an outlet for the anger and grief that held her so tight she wondered if it would ever fade.

She murmured to the ox soothingly as she used the fork to pull the dirty straw from his stall. Her arms and back aching as she worked with a feverish determination – tossing the soiled bedding over her shoulder into the middle of the little barn. Thrust. Lift. Toss. Focusing on the work so she would not have time to think of anything else.

The door to the barn creaked open, light spilling in for a moment before it shut again. Henrietta shoved the fork into another mound of straw. “I’m not done yet, Papa.”

“It’s not . . . Hey!” Natalie dodged sideways as a clod of straw and manure hurtled toward her.

Henrietta turned and looked at her with a scowl. “I’m busy.”

“I can see that.” Natalie shuffled her feet. “But we need to talk.”

“About what? The Monster Society? I told you. I’m done with that.” She dug the fork into another pile of straw and hurled it over her shoulder.

“Hey!” Natalie sidestepped again. “No, it’s not about that.” She moved closer, leaning on the top rail of the stall. “It’s about John.”

Henrietta paused, a new wave of anger making her cheeks flush. She had known from the moment she first saw John and Natalie together that he was more interested in the up-timer than he ever had been in her. But now, with Ray gone, hearing Natalie say his name was just a reminder that she was alone.

She scraped the last bits of dirty bedding out of the corners and tossed it onto the pile, looked at Natalie, ready to tell her to get out. But Natalie’s normal shy demeanor was gone—a serious wrinkle across her forehead.

Henrietta sighed. “What about John?”

“He’s not taking Konrad’s . . . passing very well.”

Henrietta shook her head. “Some of us were his friends. Not just in the Monster Society. Some of us knew him. Some of us . . .” She stopped, throat burning with the effort of holding back tears.

Natalie reached out impulsively and laid her hand on Henrietta’s shoulder. “You loved him.”

Hearing it out loud hurt more than anything else, and Henrietta tried to shake her head, but tears spilled over, and she reached up to take Natalie’s hand. “Maybe.” She took a deep breath. “Yes.”

Natalie rubbed at her own eyes fiercely, but didn’t let go of Henrietta’s hand, still leaning awkwardly across the top rail of the stall. “I am so sorry, Henrietta.”

Henrietta looked at her, trying to say something sharp and nasty. Because she knew that being around Natalie and John again would only make Ray’s absence more obvious. But she couldn’t. Deep down she didn’t want to—she wanted her friends back, even if it meant thinking more about Ray. She realized that as much as it hurt to remember him, trying to forget him hurt even more.

She let the pitchfork fall to the ground and took Natalie’s other hand. “I’m sorry, too.” For a moment they stood, tears running across their cheeks in hot and sticky lines.

Finally Henrietta let go and wiped her face on her sleeve, then took a few deep breaths of the warm and pungent air inside the barn. “Tell me about John.”

“I think he’s lost it, Henrietta,” Natalie told her.

“Lost it?”

“We both know John walked a razor’s edge sometimes between what was real and what he had built in the Monster Society, but—” Natalie frowned as Henrietta interrupted her.

“John always knew what was real and what wasn’t,” Henrietta protested. She had seen firsthand what happened when someone got lost in the games the Society played. Her brother, Van, was the reason she had joined the Society. Van had never been right in the head. That and his age had drawn her to follow him in the Society to watch over him. With each passing adventure, Van had become more dangerous and more caught up in the world that the Monster Society had helped create in his mind. Ultimately, Van had injured another new recruit that John had brought in and was booted from the Society altogether. She had stayed, though. She had found more than she bargained for in the Society and fallen for John at first sight. The Society had become her family.

Natalie shook her head. “I got to know John better than any of us guys did, Henrietta, and you know it. I loved him too,” Natalie paused so she could keep her voice under control. “Trust me when I tell you that he was . . . troubled. Something happened to him during his time in the army. He never told me what but whatever it was, it shook him to the very core of his soul. I think the Monster Society was his means of coping with his past. It was a new start for him that gave him purpose. Through it, he wasn’t alone anymore either. He had us . . . all of us. When Ray died, all that shattered for him.”

“He’s hurting,” Henrietta said, “We are, too.”

Natalie couldn’t argue that. “Yes, we are, but John . . . I think John believes he can really bring Konrad back from the dead.”

Henrietta stared at Natalie for a long moment before she spoke again. “And you think he may hurt himself or someone else trying to do it.”

Natalie nodded. “John has never fit in anywhere but the Monster Society, Henrietta. He’s always lived on the edge and thought outside of the box. There’s no telling what he may do if he believes it could bring Konrad back to us. We have to stop him before something bad happens.”

“Fine,” Henrietta consented. “I’ll help you. Do you know where he is now?”

“No,” Natalie admitted.

“We’ll find him together then but not right now,” Henrietta told her. “I have to finish my chores around the farm first. You go on. I’ll meet you at the edge of town in a few hours.”

“Thank you,” Natalie said and left, leaving Henrietta to her work.

Henrietta finished her chores as quickly as she could. After she was done, she popped into the house long enough to tell her parents she was heading out for the evening to see her friends. As she left, Henrietta carried a shovel with her.

When Konrad died, she had buried her Monster Society costume nearby and swore to never put it on again. That was a promise she had known even then that she might not be able to keep.

Henrietta found the spot where she had buried her costume and set about digging it up. Sweat poured from her skin as she dug into the earth. Soon, she would be “Red” again. When she wore her hood and her cloak, she always felt stronger than she ever did as plain old Henrietta. It was as if the character of the wolf slayer that she portrayed became a part of her.

She flung the shovel aside in the wake of uncovering her costume. She cleaned it as best she could flapping the cloak about in the air to fling the dirt from it. Her hands trembled as she clasped the cloak around her throat. As she flipped its hood up over her head, her hands stopped shaking. The features of her face hardened with determination. Losing Konrad had been enough. She wasn’t going to stand by and let John destroy himself if there was anything she could do about it. Leaving the shovel lying where she had thrown it, Red set out towards the edge of town where she knew Natalie would be waiting.

****

Natalie paced a slow circle around the tree where the members of the Monster Society always met up. She had already eaten one of the sandwiches out of her backpack. It was the second time in a month that she’d skipped school without telling anyone, which meant she hadn’t gone home after she left Henrietta, but had stayed here—near the edge of Grantville—trying to pass the time while she waited.

She considered eating the other sandwich, but she wasn’t really hungry, just bored. And cold. She breathed into her gloves to warm her fingers and plodded another circle around the tree.

Up the road, something flickered. A splash of scarlet among the grey-brown winter trees. “Ah.” Natalie snatched up her backpack and broke into a run. There was no need to wait and see who it was; the red cloak could only belong to one person.

“Red!” Natalie sidestepped a puddle and skidded on the muddy road, struggling to stay upright as her arms flailed around for balance. “Whoops. Hey, I’m glad you’re here.”

Red nodded. “I’m glad you waited.”

Natalie looked at her more closely. “Are you all right? You’re a little , , , uh . . . ” She waved a hand at the muddy cloak.

“Oh. Yeah. I’d buried it.” She smoothed her hands across each shoulder, coaxing the wrinkled fabric to lie flat. “I guess some things shouldn’t stay dead.”

“Cool.” Natalie stuffed her hands in her coat pockets, suddenly wishing she’d brought her costume, too. But that would have made Mom suspicious.

“So.” Red looked at her intently. “Now what?”

“Now we go talk to John.” Natalie stamped her feet, boots squelching in the mud. “I do miss paved roads, you know. We could have taken my bicycle.”

Red nodded. “But our legs work. And it’s not that far if we go together.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Friends make things easier, right?”

“True,” Natalie said. She hitched her thumbs through the straps of her backpack and started walking. “And at least if we’re walking my feet won’t be so cold.”

John had been kicked out of his relative’s tavern and now lived in a tiny hut tucked back in the woods. There was a path that led from the main road, but it was narrow and the trees on either side tended to snag and catch at anyone walking that way.

When Natalie and Red finally reached the little clearing around the hut they were both red-cheeked and brushing bits of twigs from their clothes and hair.

“Oof.” Natalie untangled a particularly stubborn piece of a branch from the flap on her backpack. “Stupid trees.”

Red thumped on the door with her fist.

There was a muffled clatter from within, then silence.

Red frowned and knocked on the door again, surprised that doing so didn’t cause it to fall from its hinges. “John.”

Natalie leaned down close to the door jam. “We know you’re in there. Answer the door.”

There was more clattering, like pots or crockery being shoved to one side, and the floorboards creaked.

Red was just raising her fist to knock a third time when the door flung open and John burst through. “Hello.”

He pulled the door shut behind him and looked at both of them with a ragged smile. “I wasn’t expecting . . . And Red. I thought you were finished with the Monster Society?”

Red shook her head. “Maybe not. You look terrible.”

“What? Oh.” John raked his fingers through his hair, and tugged at his shirt. It did little to hide the black circles under his eyes or the dirt crusted under his fingernails.

Natalie wondered about the reddish tint to the stains on his shirt. “Is that blood, John?”

“No. No.” He flinched back as Red stepped closer. “I mean, yes. But I cut my finger the other day and I must have, you know, wiped it on my shirt.” He blinked and rubbed his sleeve across his face. “What are you doing out here?”

“I’ve been worried about you, John.” Natalie looked at Red. “And so is Red.”

“Worried? Why?” He looked back and forth between them.

Natalie fidgeted. “You told me you were going to . . . fix things. With Konrad. And you’ve been shut up in here for days now doing something. Getting dirty.”

“And bloody,” Red said quietly.

“Oh.” John flung his arm around Natalie’s shoulders, a gesture she would normally have found comforting, but today was only stiff and cold. “You don’t think I’m trying to do magic, do you?”

“Are you?” Red asked.

John laughed uneasily. “Magic is pretend, Natalie. You know that, right?”

“Yes.” She looked up at him. “Do you?”

“Of course. There’s no such thing as a proton-pack or aliens or magic.” His fingers dug into Natalie’s shoulder. “I know that.”

“Then you won’t mind if we come inside for a minute.” Red stepped toward the door and John leapt sideways to put himself between her and his little house.

“No. Ah. I mean. It’s kind of a mess.” He licked his lips. “You’re right about . . . I’ve been trying to . . . well, I needed some time to myself. And losing Ray was very hard. So, it’s messy in there. And you wouldn’t . . . there’s no need to come inside.”

“We could help you clean up,” Natalie said.

“No!” He wiped his mouth on his hand and forced a smile. “Thank you. But I’m all right. I just need to be alone right now. Okay?”

Natalie looked at Red, hoping she would push past John and throw open the door, wanting her to confront him about whatever it was he was doing. But Red was quiet, her face nearly hidden beneath her hood.

Natalie cleared her throat. “We just want to help, John. Red and I are both upset about Ray, too.” Her eyes stung with tears. “We all miss him. Just tell us what we can do to help. Please.”

“You can leave me alone,” John snapped. “If you want to help, then go away. Let me . . . let me do what needs to be done.”

“And what’s that, John?” There was an edge to Red’s voice that Natalie had never heard before.

John chewed on his lower lip for a moment, as though trying to find the right words. “Grieve,” he said finally. “And I don’t need either of you around for that.”

“Ah.” Red slipped her arm through Natalie’s elbow. “All right.” She tugged Natalie back towards the path.

“Red?” Natalie looked at her in confusion. “What—”

“We’ll leave you alone, John. Just like you’ve asked,” Red said loudly. Then softly, to Natalie. “He needs to think we’ve given up.”

Natalie nodded, drying her eyes with the back of her glove. “Goodbye, John.”

They pushed their way back along the little path, until Natalie, glancing back over her shoulder now and then, saw the white blur of John’s shirt disappear. “I think he’s gone back inside.”

Red stopped, head tilted as she listened for any sign that John was following them. “I think you’re right.”

“So, now what?”

“You’re right. He’s up to something stupid.” Red looked around for a moment. “There.” She pointed to a fallen tree, the trunk nearly covered in a drift of old leaves. “We’ll hide and wait to see what he’s up to.”

“Don’t we need to be closer to the hut?” Natalie asked as they squeezed slowly between the trees on either side of the path.

“No. Whatever he thinks he’s going to do, he’ll need Ray at some point.” Red climbed over the fallen tree and settled on the other side.

“But he’s . . . oh.” Natalie flushed as she understood. “He’ll have to go to the cemetery.”

“That’s right.” Red pulled some of the leaves over her cloak so the red was mostly hidden, lying down on the ground so only the top of her head poked above the fallen trunk. “And then we’ll follow him.”

The sun had long sunk from the sky when John emerged from his hut. Natalie knew she was way beyond just getting trouble for ditching school now. Her parents were likely freaking out. She’d be lucky to see the light of day, outside of school, for months when she got home. There was nothing for it, though. If they didn’t find out what was going on with John and help him, no one would. They were his only friends left in the world.

Just as Red predicted, John headed for the cemetery. Quietly, ever so careful not to be seen, they crept along after him.

When John reached the cemetery he made a beeline for Konrad’s grave. Once there, his hands vanished into the depths of his trench coat to re-emerge with five small candles in them. He positioned one atop Konrad’s grave and the others around it at four fixed points. John picked up a stick and drew a circle in the dirt around the four candles, muttering something in a bizarre language as he did so.

“I told you he’d gone off the deep end,” Natalie whispered to Red, shooting her a look where they hid in the trees at the edge of the cemetery.

“Shhh,” Red hushed her.

John lit all five of the candles and moved to kneel at the edge of Konrad’s grave within the circle. He began to chant as he removed his shirt. Natalie gasped as she saw the wounds that covered his chest. Red moved quickly to grab her and slap a hand over her mouth. Natalie was thankful she had; otherwise she might have screamed.

His voice rising, John cried out at the moon and stars above, still speaking in the strange language he had been muttering. One of John’s hands slipped down to the top of his right boot. He drew a small knife from it and brought the blade up in front of him, holding up and out into the light of the moon.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going to happen next.

“I think we’ve seen enough,” Red told Natalie in a gruff voice.

Red stood up and launched herself from the trees. “John! You put that knife down right now!”

John spun about to face them. His cheeks were slicked with tears as he stared at them as if he wasn’t sure they were really there. “Red? Natalie?”

“I thought you said you didn’t believe in magic John?” Natalie challenged him, anger thick in her voice.

“Put the knife down,” Red ordered him again, more firmly.

John looked at the knife he held and then at Red. “You don’t understand, Red,” he started but Natalie was on him before he could finish. Her hand shot out to knock the knife from his grasp. It went flying to land in the grass nearby. “How could you?” she rasped as she hauled back and slapped him across his cheek with all the force she could muster.

Staggering back a step, John caught himself before he lost his footing and toppled over.

“Look at what you’ve done to yourself!” Natalie raged thrusting a finger towards his wounded and scarred chest.

At that moment, John broke down, collapsing to his knees in front of Natalie. Tears streamed from his eyes. “I don’t . . . I don’t know how to bring him back Natalie. I’ve tried everything.”

Red stepped up to stand beside Natalie. “That’s because you can’t bring him back, John. Konrad is dead. There is no coming back from that.”

“It hurts so much,” John sobbed. “Please . . . Please help me.”

Natalie and Red exchanged a look of pity for the broken former leader of the Monster Society and friend.

Natalie dropped to her knees and pulled John into an embrace. “That’s all we’ve ever wanted to do John, help you.”

“Come on,” Red told the two of them. “Let’s get you home, John. We need to take a better look at what you’ve done to yourself and make sure those wounds aren’t infected.”

Natalie helped John to his feet and tried to lead him after Red, who was already heading for the trees. John stopped her, looking over at shoulder at Konrad’s grave, to which he said, “I’m sorry, Ray. I am so sorry I let you down again.”

Taking hold of him gently by the underside of his chin, Natalie pulled his face around towards her own. “You didn’t fail him John. You gave him a life of friends and fun. You were there for him to the very end and even beyond. Konrad loves you, John, even now, wherever he is, he loves you just like we do.”

It was going to be a long night, Natalie knew, as she and Red tended to John and a worse day afterwards as she faced the wrath of her parents, but it was all worth it. The Monster Society was together again and it took care of its own, no matter the price.

****

 

 

 

An Iconic Mystery

Limoges Cathedral, France

February, 1636

 

“Glorious, Master Renoir, simply glorious,” François de Lafayette said, trailing a finger down the palm-sized icon. “Their Majesties cannot help but be pleased when I present your gift to them at the christening.”

Master Renoir bowed, his face hard as he bowed over his worn, but serviceable, workman’s clothes. Renoir was a surprisingly thickset man, given his place as Limoges’s premier artist in a craft that required delicate skill. It was also, Bishop de Lafayette thought, caressing his own fashionable costume, surprising that a head of an important guild had come in work clothes instead of the finery both the artist and his wife affected at Mass.

“If the child is born and lives, Monsieur de Lafayette. And is a Dauphin. Her Majesty has been pregnant before without a live child. What matters most to me, my lord Bishop, is how their Majesties will show their pleasure to Limoges,” Master Renoir said gruffly.

De Lafayette sighed. If I could count the number of times I have tried, he thought, repressing the urge to run his hands through his thinning grey hair. Sighing, he smoothed his doublet over his belly. He was getting too old for this, de Lafayette told himself. Too old to do much of anything in a world that had turned upside down.

“Master Renoir,” de Lafayette said, “I assure you I shall do my utmost for my beloved city . . .”

Master Renoir scowled at the icon, refusing to answer the bishop’s obvious platitude, and tugged on his leather apron. That was deliberate, de Lafayette thought sourly. As representative (purely unofficial) of the town’s enamel workers, Master Renoir should have presented himself in a doublet and pantaloons, the clothes he wore to Sunday Mass. But his worker’s garb (which de Lafayette doubted he actually worked in) felt like a reminder that the Committees of Correspondence, if there were Committees in Limoges (or anywhere in France), were always there to rouse the disaffected.

Sighing, de Lafayette turned to the triptych.

It really was a masterpiece, de Lafayette thought. Not even the Byzantine or Russian masters of the Orthodox Church, or the up-timers of Grantville with their mastery of mechanization, could produce such a work—Saint Anne and Saint Martial on either side of the Virgin and Child, all created by Limoges’s greatest enamel artists.

And the cathedral nave was the perfect place to admire such a treasure, de Lafayette thought. The glorious rose window poured light over the altar, bare at the moment of everything but the golden cross and the icon, as if God Himself was blessing the work of human hands.

No candles though, not during the day, even if it left the rows of benches worn smooth by generations of worshippers lit only by the light coming from the high gothic arches. If he could, de Lafayette thought, he’d replace the rood screen and the frescos on the Romanesque crypt with icons like these, maybe even a gilded iconostasis? But no, he decided for the hundredth time, his parishioners might think it too Byzantine.

“It may have been more appropriate,” de Lafayette thought out loud, “for Saint Louis instead of Saint Martial.”

“Saint Martial is the patron saint of Limoges and the name of our great abbey,” Master Renoir said stiffly. “The guild felt . . .”

“Forgive me, Master,” de Lafayette interrupted softly. “I agree with the guild’s artistic judgment, of course. But perhaps the guild might consider a second commission? A private one, from myself, not as Bishop of Limoges?”

Smiling, de Lafayette put his arm around the master artist’s shoulder. “Come, my friend, come. Let’s discuss it over some refreshment. I have some excellent Bordeaux . . .”

****

Abbey of Saint Martial, Limoges

 

“Gabriel-Nicholas de Traslage! Get down from there right now!” Frère Jacques shouted as he limped through the abbey gardens toward the boy, his Benedictine black robe flapping around his spare frame.

Gabriel grinned from a branch in the abbey’s oldest apple tree at the edge of the apple grove. “I’m all right, Frère,” he called down at the monk, swinging his legs.

“I don’t care if you’re the healthiest young man in France! I said get down! Not only is that tree older than you, but you’re late for your Latin lessons!” Jacques called, waving a fist at the boy.

That tree really should have been cut down years ago, Frère Jacques thought crossly. It was old and twisted and hadn’t borne fruit for years. It served no purpose but to give sanctuary to students who should have been in their lessons.

Gabriel groaned from his perch. He hated Latin, almost as much as he hated Mathematics and Fencing. “But Frère . . .”

“Don’t ‘but’ me. Do I have to tell Father Pierre you’re due an extra penance?”

Gabriel shuddered and launched himself out of the tree, barely missing the monk as he landed. Father Pierre’s ‘extra penances’ always involved the wood paddle he kept in his office. Gabriel’s friend Charles had nicknamed it Dante after the class had read The Divine Comedy.

“What is this?” Jacques said, picking up the tattered bundle of papers Gabriel had dropped when he jumped.

“Something I was reading . . . for Literature . . . Frère,” Gabriel reached for the booklet, but the monk turned away too quickly, thumbing through the loosely-tied pages.

The Hound of the Baskervilles? That doesn’t sound like something Frère Michel would assign as class reading,” Jacques said sternly.

“It’s an up-time book by an Englishman,” Gabriel said. “The main character is paid by people to investigate mysteries. This one’s about a nobleman’s estate that is haunted. Monsieur Holmes . . .”

“Ah,” Jacques said, “it is one of their immoral novels.” The monk shook his head. What were the young coming to, infected by this godless up-timer fiction? he thought. When Jacques had been a novice . . .

“No, no,” Gabriel said, reaching for his booklet, “Monsieur Holmes uses the scientific method of observation to help. He frequently plays the violin to focus his thoughts, Frère Michel said . . .”

“That is not what I meant,” Jacques countered, holding the booklet away from Gabriel’s grasping hands. “Belief in ghosts and other so-called manifestations are superstition and heresy. It seems, young man, you need correction before you fall into serious error. I think I shall start by burning this piece of trash.”

“Frère Jacques! Frère Jacques! You must come quickly!” Turning, Jacques frowned as a novice ran across Jacques’s prize herbs, distracting him enough that Gabriel snatched his book from the monk’s hand. Reaching out, Jacques caught Gabriel’s arm as the novice stopped, panting on the path between the garden beds.

“What’s the matter boy?” Jacques growled, scowling at the broom-thin novice’s dirt-covered sandals.

“Frère Jacques . . .” The novice heaved as he bent over, placing his hands on his knees.

“Yes,” Jacques said, annoyed at both the novice and Gabriel. “What is it?”

“The bishop is here, Frère! Abbot Daurat is calling the chapter!” the novice said, practically jumping up and down in his excitement.

“Yes,” Jacques said dryly, “he does that frequently. Suppose you tell me why?”

“Bishop de Lafayette has arrived! There is important news!” the novice said, looking as if he was about to spontaneously explode.

Gabriel looked excited, too, which was bad, Jacques thought. Two seconds after he dismissed young Gabriel, the news that the bishop had arrived and the abbey chapter called would be all over the school, and it would be impossible for anyone to get the students to settle to their studies for the rest of the day.

Jacques sighed. “Gabriel, get to class. No, you may not have your book back, at least not yet. I shall turn this . . .” He waved the booklet. “. . . over to Father Pierre and see what he has to say. Now scoot!”

****

“It’s in the chapel on the altar,” Claude d’Aguesseau whispered to Gabriel. “I heard the bishop said an up-timer couldn’t have done better.”

“Of course not,” Henri de Lafayette said indignantly. “The up-timers are good at machines. This is art, and Limoges is the greatest center of French art! Bertrand de Born . . .”

“Shut up!” Gabriel hissed, and not just because Henri tended to go on (and on) about Bertrand de Born as if the medieval troubadour was an up-time rock star. It wasn’t as if de Born could compare to Queen anyway. Just because Henri was the bishop’s great-nephew . . . Gabriel started as he realized he was tapping the rhythm to “We Will Rock You,” the song that a group of soldiers had shouted out at a recent handball game.

Trying not to make too much noise, Gabriel pushed open the door to the choir loft, and the three boys crept into the chapel and down the tight spiral staircase to the floor.

The chapel was dark, the sconces and candelabra making pools of light along the walls at each end of the aisle, and at the foot of the stairs, but leaving most of the altar in the shadow of the choir monk’s stalls. There was some moonlight coming from the stained glass windows on the far side of the chapel, but not enough.

“Just like in one of our Mystery Book Club novels,” Claude whispered to Gabriel and Henri. They nodded absently as they crept along the benches to the aisle.

“That’s strange,” Gabriel whispered to his friends. “Didn’t you say Frère Joseph was supposed to be doing penance about now, Henri?”

“Novice David said the Abbot told Frère Joseph he was to pray for forgiveness all night for his blasphemy,” Henri said.

“What did he say?” Claude asked with a smirk. He’d had to serve penance for blasphemy a lot lately, ever since their teachers caught on to what OMG meant. Claude claimed he’d heard the expression from a lefferti, but Gabriel suspected it was from one of the pamphlets Claude kept hidden under his mattress.

Henri shrugged. “I don’t know. David just told me he’d be here now and I thought this would be a good time to come to see the triptych. You know how deaf Frère Joseph is and how he falls asleep at mass.”

Gabriel nodded, and turned toward the altar. He wasn’t really interested in the triptych itself, but in the adventure. But the triptych wasn’t on the altar. Or rather part of it was. The frame was still there, but the jewels were gone, and only the center icon of the Virgin and Child remained.

“What have you three done?” Abbot Daurat’s voice rang out, echoing in the stone chapel.

Gabriel whirled around. “Father Abbot, we didn’t . . . We just got here . . .”

The abbot scowled, looking like a bird of prey with the other choir monks behind him, candles in hand. “And who gave you permission to be here and out of the dormitory? Where is Frère Joseph?”

“I don’t know,” Henri answered. “We thought Frère Joseph was doing penance . . .”

“And you thought he wouldn’t hear you entering the chapel,” Father Pierre said caustically from behind the abbot, “or mind you destroying a treasure commissioned by our bishop for the royal house! How did you get in?”

“We didn’t come to destroy the triptych!” Claude shouted. “We just wanted to see it . . .”

The Abbot held up a hand. “I repeat, how did you get in, and where is Frère Joseph?”

“I’m here, Father Abbot,” Frère Joseph said from the side door of the chapel. The old monk looked around at the crowd curiously. “I had to relieve myself.”

Abbot Daurat sighed, but nodded. Frère Joseph was one of the oldest monks in the abbey, and as the abbot before him had remarked when Daurat was a novice, God had to forgive a person for interrupting his penance to answer the call of nature because, after all, God had designed a man’s bowels. But, he wasn’t about to let the boys off the hook yet.

“That only leaves the matter of how you got into the chapel,” the abbot said sternly. “I assume you used the side door like Frère Joseph? Since we came through the front doors.”

“No, Father Abbot,” Gabriel said, looking at his friends. It was better to come clean, he thought. If they were honest about how they gotten into the chapel without being seen, as well as why they’d come, then maybe the abbot would stop suspecting them.

“We came in through the choir loft,” he finished. “Henri said it would be unlocked and . . .”

“Oh?” the Abbot interrupted. He looked at a guilty Henri. “And just how did you know the door in the loft would be unlocked? I thought I gave orders for that door to remain locked?”

Henri shrugged. “One of the novices told me, Father Abbot. I forget whom.”

Abbott Dauret nodded gravely, not believing Henri’s evasion. “Well, well.” He cupped his chin in his hand as he stared hard at the boys. “Maybe a week of serving penance with Frère Stephan will help you remember, Henri?”

Henri groaned, and Gabriel felt bad for his friend. Frère Stephan ran the abbey’s infirmary, and helping out with the sick was one of the least favorite ‘penances’ available since the infirmarian used his young helpers to empty and clean the bedpans.

“It was David, Father Abbot,” Henri said hopefully.

The abbot nodded. “Thank you for your honesty, Henri. I hope you will contemplate its virtues as well as the pitfalls of gossiping instead of attending to your prayers over the next week and a half in the infirmary. And as for you, Jean-Claude and Gabriel-Nicholas . . .”

Gabriel looked at the Abbot with horror,

“. . . I think you should join your friend in the infirmary while you contemplate the consequences of being out of bed after hours.”

Gabriel and Claude groaned. But, Gabriel realized, at least the abbot believed they hadn’t destroyed the triptych.

“Father Abbot,” Father Pierre’s hard voice said, “about the triptych . . .”

Abbot Dauret nodded. “Yes,” he said, turning to the thickset novice master who oversaw student discipline, “However, I think for the moment . . .” He turned and gave the boys a stern look, “. . . we shall proceed as though everyone here is innocent until proven guilty.”

****

“Tough luck, guys,” Charles said as he helped himself to his third pastry from the tray in front of the boys. Another tray, empty of everything but crumbs, rested at the other end of the huge table Gabriel shared with his friends in the half-empty refectory. “At least Father Abbot didn’t expel you. You would have caught it then. I told you not to go. All this trouble for a stupid picture!”

“A stupid picture that might mean something more than tax-farming or marrying some pockmarked heiress,” Gabriel said bitterly. If Their Majesties had liked the triptych enough to grant Limoges their patronage, then maybe Gabriel could do something other than marry the heiress his parents had betrothed him to and spend his life as a provincial magistrate. Something special for France, like Monsieur Holmes or the Vicomte de Turenne.

“Well, now it’s ruined,” Charles said, reaching for a fourth pastry, but Claude slapped his hand away. “And it doesn’t matter anyway. My father told me there isn’t going to be a Dauphin except for Monsieur Gaston, and Queen Anne is going to be locked in a convent with her bastard.”

The boys groaned, Charles’s father, a tax farmer, was a convinced Orleanist.

“That’s foolish,” Gabriel said. “And anyway, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Limoges’ gift to the crown is gone, and there’s no way the craftsmen could make replacements in time.”

Charles snickered. “They’d have to replace Saint Anne with Saint Marguerite, anyway. Madame la Duchesse won’t want a portrait of someone else’s saint.”

“Will you shut up, Charles?” Gabriel asked angrily. “I think we should find out what happened to the icons.”

Henri shook his head. “My great-uncle will do that. There’s no need for us to get involved.”

“I agree with Gabriel,” Claude said. “After all, Father Abbot suspects us—you, me, and Gabriel—of destroying it. If we can find out who really did it, we can prove it wasn’t us.”

Henri smiled as he nodded. “And maybe get out of carrying bedpans for a week and a half?”

Gabriel shuddered. It wasn’t that he hated the sick, or thought the poor who inhabited the abbey infirmary were bad, but the stench of anyone‘s chamber pot was enough to make him retch.

“All right,” Gabriel said to Henri and Claude. “If we’re going to do this, we’ve got to have a plan. We’ve got to be methodical and thorough in our investigation, like Monsieur Holmes.”

The other boys rolled their eyes at Gabriel’s mention of the English sleuth, but Gabriel ignored them and reached for his notepad and pencil. The notepad was thin newsprint and expensive, but the abbey school required each student to purchase several to take notes in class and write reports.

“Who’s our first suspect?” Gabriel asked, writing “Suspects” at the top of the page.

“Frère Joseph,” Claude and Henri said together.

“Not even Frère Joseph should have to take a piss when he’s been praying and fasting since Nones.” Charles snickered.

Ignoring Charles, Gabriel put Frère Joseph’s name beside the numeral 1. “What about David, Henri? The novice who told you the choir loft would be unlocked?”

Henri nodded. “Now that I think about it, how did he know? Put Father Pierre on the list, too Gabriel. He was so determined to point the finger at us.”

Gabriel nodded and added Father Pierre and Novice David to the list. “Anyone else?”

When the other boys shook their heads, Gabriel sighed and pointed at Henri with his stylus. “Henri, since David is your friend, why don’t you ask him some questions? Ask him where he was, that sort of thing.”

“No, really?” Henri asked sarcastically. “We read those up-time detective stories too, Gabriel. Remember, it was all of our money that paid for the Mystery Book Club subscription? Though I liked those ones about the Belgian more, not to mention the ones about the English monk.”

“Welsh,” Charles corrected him, “not English. Frère Cadfael was from Wales.”

“Claude, why don’t you tackle Father Pierre since Charles isn’t interested?” Gabriel asked, ignoring Charles. “And I’ll investigate the crime scene and talk to Frère Joseph.”

“Why do you get to investigate the crime scene?” Claude whined. “You don’t even know what you’re looking for, or have any of the materials to do it. How are you going to photograph the scene or dust for fingerprints? You can’t even draw.”

Gabriel nodded. It was a definite problem.

“Photographing the scene won’t help us even if we could afford a camera,” Charles said, looking superior. “As for fingerprints . . .” Charles pulled a box out of his satchel. “I . . . um . . . borrowed . . . this from my mother the last time I was home. For science experiments.”

The other boys grinned as they saw the unmistakable red tint of rouge in the box.

“Yeah, science experiments,” Gabriel said. “Funny though, I haven’t seen you taking any prints.”

Charles flushed. “Do you follow me around every second of every day, Gabriel? Besides, I haven’t figured out how to transfer the prints to something that’ll stick yet. Do you want me to help or not?”

Gabriel glanced at the other boys, who nodded, then held out his hand to Charles. “The game’s afoot, my friends!”

****

“So, Frère Joseph, where were you when the triptych was damaged?” Gabriel asked, trying to sound ingenious. Gabriel knew that Frère Joseph had told the abbot where he was, since Gabriel had been there, but Gabriel wanted to be thorough.

“What does it matter to you?” the monk asked sourly as he adjusted himself on the chapel’s stone floor.

The chapel was only a little warmer in the day than it had been last night, Gabriel thought, as the cold ate through his doublet and up though his shoes. Gabriel had no idea how Frère Joseph could stand kneeling on the icy floor day and night.

“You novices are all the same,” Frère Joseph said, hitching at his robe. “Nosy about things that don’t concern you, in places you shouldn’t be. Take my advice, young man, and stay out of the abbot’s private rooms.”

“I’m not a novice, Frère, I’m one of the students. I’m asking about the triptych the bishop commissioned for the Dauphin. I’m . . . doing a report,” Gabriel lied, looking over the monk’s shoulder to where Charles was brushing furiously at the chapel altar, which had begun to turn pink. Gabriel doubted Charles had found anything yet.

“What dolphin?” Frère Joseph shouted, and Gabriel winced. The old man’s voice was loud enough to wake the dead.

“The Dauphin, Frère Joseph. Queen Anne’s baby. She’s supposed to deliver any day now,” Gabriel said, trying to speak loudly and clearly enough.

“Nonsense, boy, you’ve got it wrong. The novice master ought to be whipped, and you along with him! Fancy a novice not knowing who the Queen of France is! Well let me tell you, whoever you are, the Queen of France is Marguerite de Valois!” Frère Joseph said with an air of finality as he clapped his hands together and screwed his eyes shut.

Gabriel stared. “Ummm, Frère . . . La Reine Margot is dead . . . And she was divorced . . .”

“Nonsense!” Frère Joseph countered, opening one eye. “Young boys these days! If my poor bowels …”

The monk suddenly blanched and ran for the side door. Gabriel followed, motioning to Charles. Even if he had to put up with the stink of an old man’s plumbing, Gabriel vowed, he’d find the truth.

Frère Joseph barely made it down the short hallway to the necessary before crouching down to relieve himself with a groan. Gabriel perched in the doorway, trying to breathe through his mouth. “Frère Joseph, you must remember the other evening? My friends and I came into the chapel to see the triptych . . .”

Frère Joseph groaned. “Young man, if I could remember what I had for dinner I probably wouldn’t be in such pain now. Will you please leave?”

Frère Joseph let out a loud fart, and Gabriel retreated into the corridor, holding his nose.

“At it again is he? Poor old man,” a voice said from behind Gabriel.

Gabriel turned and saw one of the lay brothers standing nearby with a mop and bucket.

“Was he here last night?” Gabriel asked, pulling out his notebook.

The monk shrugged. “Not my night on duty. Matthew usually cleans up after Frère Joseph, poor sod.”

“Who’s Matthew? What does he look like?” Gabriel asked as he pulled his pencil out from behind his ear. There were so many lay brothers, he thought. The students had little to do with the monks who did the work of running the abbey, except at mealtimes. Mostly they interacted with their teachers, who were all choir monks.

The monk snorted and shrugged. “Tall guy, red hair. If I could find him, I’d strangle him for leaving me to take care of the old man like this.”

“Where did he go?” Gabriel said, his ears picking up.

The monk shook his head and slung his mop over his shoulder. “Last time I saw him he said he was done with this place. Can’t say I blame him,” the monk said, pinching his nose at the stink coming from the necessary.

Gabriel gagged and ran down the hall toward the garden where he found Henri and Claude. “Heh, guys! Learn anything?”

“Yeah, Frère Pierre did it with the Dante in the cupola,” Claude said sarcastically. “Frère Pierre told me to get lost, and I wasn’t about to argue, not when he was chewing out Marc for throwing spit wads in the scriptorium. Not a conversation I really wanted to interrupt if you know what I mean.”

“I found out something,” Henri said, kicking at a pebble on the path. “My friend David said the choir loft door is regularly left unlocked. The choir master keeps forgetting to lock it, and the choir doesn’t like reminding him. They’d rather practice in the music room where it’s warmer, but the master wants to practice in the chapel because of the acoustics. But the choir master is supposed to lock the choir loft even though the main doors are left open. Father Abbot doesn’t want someone breaking a limb on those stairs in the dim light.”

Gabriel nodded and scribbled the information down. “Great. At least one of us got something.”

The other boys nodded gloomily. So far, Gabriel thought, their investigation was turning up nothing.

Then Gabriel heard shouting coming from behind him.

“Ah, guys?” Henri asked. “Where’s Charles?”

****

“I can’t believe you deserted me like that,” Charles said as he emptied a bedpan into the garden cesspit. “I thought we were supposed to be in this together like the Three Musketeers.”

“We never said ‘All for one, and one for all,’ ” Henri said as he emptied his pan. “And that book has been overdone since the Ring of Fire!”

“Guys, come on!” Gabriel said, joining his friends. “We’ve got to come up with a plan. So far the only things we’ve learned is that the choir loft is left unlocked, the lay brother who regularly helps Frère Joseph is gone, Frère Joseph has a bad case of the runs, and rouge powder turns the chapel altar pink. We don’t have a clue what happened to the missing icons, let alone the jewels in the frame.”

“They must have fallen out,” Claude said. He scratched his head. “My father’s always complaining about the quality of Limoges jewelers whenever I’m on a visit.”

“They may have fallen out,” Gabriel countered, “if the frame fell or someone broke it trying to get the icons out.” Gabriel sighed. “It would have been so cool if Charles had been able to find some fingerprints, but I think we should stick to Monsieur Holmes’s method of observation and logic.”

The other boys nodded in agreement.

“Here’s what could have happened,” Gabriel continued. “Someone entered the chapel between the time Frère Joseph went to the necessary and the three of us entered. They ruined the triptych frame and either stole or destroyed two of the icons.”

“And stole the jewels from the frame . . . maybe,” Henri interjected. “They could have fallen out. It isn’t as though we got to look around before the Father Abbot caught us.”

“I hate to interrupt your skull session,” Frère Stephan said dryly, “but those bed pans aren’t cleaning themselves.”

Gabriel looked at Frère Stephan thoughtfully. The monk had been with the abbot when the destroyed triptych had been found . . .

“Frère Stephan,” Gabriel said, trying, not very successfully, to appear angelic, “we were wondering about what happened to the triptych . . .”

Frère Stephan sighed. “Boys . . . please leave these matters to your elders and God’s hands. His Grace the Bishop will make sure Limoges is not forgotten when a Dauphin is christened or a king crowned.”

“Yes, but, Frère,” Henri said, pushing forward. “One day we’ll be peers of the realm, magistrates, or officials. I might be Bishop of Limoges like my great-uncle. Don’t you think . . .”

“No, I don’t. I think you should mind your own business, which, my fine gentlemen, is how you ended up under my supervision.” Frère Stephan said. “Matthew!”

The boys traded glances as an older lay monk walked over with a stinky bucket. He was taller than the boys and the other lay brother Gabriel remembered, but Gabriel wouldn’t describe his hair as red so much as orange.

“Yes, Frère Stephan?” Matthew answered politely.

“Our young penitents need some supervision, if you please. See that they stay on task,” Frère Stephan commanded as he swept away.

“Frère Matthew?” Gabriel asked as the monk handed his bucket to Henri to empty.

“Yes. Gabriel, is it?” Frère Matthew answered with a small smile.

“Yes sir. I was wondering whether to look after Frère Joseph?” Gabriel asked, trying not to breathe in the stink of the bedpan he still held. It seemed to be getting worse the longer he held it. Frère Matthew reached out and emptied it into the pit, after setting his bucket down.

“I do sometimes, poor soul. Frère Stephan and I think he’s not long for this world if his bowels remain so loose. He’s not keeping enough inside to keep a bird alive.” Matthew shook his head. “And he sleeps all day then insists on keeping vigil alone all night in the chapel even though the abbot says he must follow Frère Stephan’s advice and rest.”

“Why don’t you send him to Italy or the Germanies where he might get up-time medical help?” Charles asked.

Frère Matthew shook his head. “There’s no cure for old age, even among the up-timers. You should have emptied these bedpans into a bucket like I did, then changed them for one of the newly cleaned ones. Come along, boys.”

Gabriel and the others followed Matthew through the main infirmary to the corner where the monks kept the cleaning supplies. The cots on either side of the center aisle were practically empty, Gabriel thought resentfully. There shouldn’t be a pile of bedpans waiting to be cleaned with sand and vinegar.

“But did you see Frère Joseph go to the necessary that night? If you were looking after Frère Joseph why weren’t you in the chapel or with him when he came back?”

Matthew raised his eyebrows, but unlike Frère Stephan, he smiled. “I did see Frère Joseph go to the necessary that evening, boys. I did my best to help him, and when he finished I stayed behind to clean up. Now are there any other questions?”

“Did you see the triptych? What about the jewels from the frame?” Henri asked.

Matthew’s face became closed and stern. “I did see the triptych and the jewels in the frame. It’s a pity what happened.”

“What did happen?” Gabriel asked eagerly.

Matthew shook his head. “I’ve said enough. You need to get to work cleaning the bedpans.”

“That was suspicious,” Charles said as they turned to follow Matthew. “You’d think he’d just say ‘The abbot knows everything, everything’s all right.’ And tell us what happened. Why all this secrecy?”

“I think it’s because they don’t want both settlements finding out their gift to the royal family was stolen,” Claude said, leaping over a branch. “I think we should take a look at the necessary.”

Gabriel wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Even if it hasn’t been used lately it’ll still stink. Charles, while you were trying to dust for fingerprints did you see anything, any clue?”

Charles shook his head, and stopped in the path. “Nothing. But then I wasn’t looking. Maybe I should take another look while you guys are looking in the necessary?”

“No. Any evidence that might have been there is probably long gone by now.” Gabriel scratched his head, trying to think of an idea that might work. “Charles, why don’t you try Frère Pierre? He might talk to you since you weren’t in the chapel the first time.”

“I have a better idea,” Charles said. “Why don’t I go with you and Henri goes to see Frère Pierre? He’s the bishop’s nephew and you know how Frère Pierre respects connections.”

The boys grinned at each other. It was an open secret that Frère Pierre wanted to be abbot when Abbot Dauret died or stepped down and hoped to convince Bishop de Lafayette to support him. It was an equally open secret that the Bishop didn’t interfere with the chapter vote.

“No way,” Henri said. “I’d rather face the necessary than Frère Pierre.”

“But the necessary isn’t that big,” Gabriel pointed out. “All four of us wouldn’t fit.”

“So you and I will examine the necessary and Claude and Charles will keep watch,” Henri countered.

The other boys nodded, and Gabriel looked around them. Apparently both Frère Stephan and his assistants had given up on making the boys clean the pile of filthy bed pans, he thought, because they were all busy with the patients. Gabriel nodded to his friends.

“Okay, let’s go,” he said, and the boys crept out of the infirmary and through the corridors to the necessary by the chapel.

Gabriel started to pull open the door and suddenly stopped. Frère Joseph was sprawled on the floor, a small streak of blood at one side of his mouth and a larger pool drying where the brother’s head met the floor.

“Mon Dieu!” Gabriel shouted as he jumped back, hitting something solid as he did. A pair of large hands grasped at his arms as he over-balanced and nearly fell onto Frère Joseph.

“For the love of . . .” Frère Jacques sputtered as he pulled Gabriel out of the necessary.

“I didn’t hurt him,” Gabriel shouted as the monk hauled him into the corridor.

“I know that, Boy,” Frère Jacques sputtered. “I was two seconds behind you, coming to see what the four of you were doing in the corridor instead of in the infirmary. Or did Stephan let them go, Matthew?”

Gabriel turned and saw Frère Matthew coming toward them. Matthew shook his head as he joined the group, slightly out of breath. “No, Frère Jacques. I was just coming to get them.”

“Frère Matthew,” Gabriel said, “Frère Joseph is in the necessary unconscious, I think something’s wrong.”

The lay brother blanched, and pushed his way through to Frère Joseph. Kneeling down, Matthew pressed his fingers to Frère Joseph’s neck, then shook his head.

“He’s gone,” Matthew said slowly as he looked up at the boys. Tears began to form in the younger monk’s eyes.

“Someone killed him?” Charles asked, trying not to sound excited.

“I doubt it,” Frère Matthew said, glaring up at Charles. “Frère Joseph had been ill a long time. Most likely he had another seizure.”

“Another seizure?” Gabriel asked at the same time the other boys asked, “Frère Joseph had seizures?”

Frère Jacques sighed. “Frère Matthew, please go get Frère Stephan. You know what he’ll need. As for the three of you,” Frère Jacques gave the boys a hard look, “I think Father Abbot should deal with you. Again.”

****

“So you see, Father,” Gabriel said, “we decided to investigate. Just like the people in the mysteries.”

Gabriel’s father nodded slowly and exchanged a look with Abbot Dauret that Gabriel didn’t understand.

“As you can see, Young Gabriel,” the Abbot said, waving at a tall chest, “the settlement’s triptych is perfectly fine.”

Gabriel flushed as he examined the triptych as it sat in isolated splendor on Abbot Dauret’s carved prie deau. It was a lovely thing, Saint Anne cradling Saint Mary, her blue veil embroidered with fleur-de-lys on the right, Saint Martial in gold on the left, the Virgin and Christ child in the center. Worthy, Gabriel thought, of a future king.

It was so lovely and new it made the rest of the Abbot’s office look faded and shabby. But then the plain, uncarved desk, the ordinary straight-backed chairs, rickety bench, and brass candelabra looked like they belonged in a peasant’s hut, Gabriel thought disdainfully. Even his parent’s home, as poor as they were for a noble family, was better furnished.

“But what happened, Father Abbot?” Gabriel asked, unable to stop himself.

“Frère Jacques knocked the triptych over when he had a seizure,” Gabriel’s father said, putting a hand on Gabriel’s shoulder. “May God bless his soul.”

“Indeed,” Abbot Dauret said, folding his hands into the sleeves of his habit. “The jewels and icons were knocked loose by the violence when Frère Jacques thrashed out. I believe he was reaching for the Host when the seizure took him. He often did that,” the Abbot told Gabriel’s father, “forgetting he was no longer able to function as a priest. Poor Frère Matthew has had to take communion from Frère Joseph several times, fearing stopping him would do more harm than good.

“Frère Jacques found the icon of Saint Martial in the necessary,” Abbot Dauret continued, looking at Gabriel. “The icon of Saint Anne was found by Frere Pierre with the jewels behind the altar.”

“But . . .” Gabriel started, then stopped when he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder.

“There’s nothing wrong with healthy curiosity, Gabriel-Nicholas,” his father said. “And it’s good for a magistrate to know how an investigation is run. But . . .” Gabriel flushed at his father’s stern look. “There is a difference between curiosity and interference. The next time one of your elders tells you not to interfere, you should listen.”

“Yes Father,” Gabriel said. “But what if the person telling me not to interfere is hiding a crime?”

“Hmmm,” Gabriel’s father said, nodding. His displeased expression softened slightly. “It depends, I suppose, on whether you’re investigating a real crime or indulging your curiosity. What do you say, Father Abbot?”

Abbot Dauret smiled softly. “I agree, Monsieur.”

“I think I understand,” Gabriel said, then paused. “Father? Can I ask you something?”

His father chuckled. “You already did, but go on.”

“Do I have to be a magistrate?” Gabriel asked in a rush. “What if I became a private investigator like Monsieur Holmes? Maybe I could go to Grantville or Magdeburg to study up-time police things? When we’re not at war with the up-timers anymore? Please?”

His father exchanged a strange look with Abbot Dauret and tugged on his doublet’s worn sleeve. “I don’t know. If we can afford it. Maybe when the war ends. But, Gabriel-Nicholas, there’s no place for a private investigator in Limoges.”

“But I could go to Paris,” Gabriel countered, his mind filling with dreams. “Paris could use an investigator.”

Abbot Dauret rubbed his chin. “Hmmm. Monsieur, I think you should have a talk with His Grace about the information we spoke about earlier. I think he might have an idea or two about young Gabriel’s desire to study in Grantville or Magdeburg when he’s a little older.”

Jean-Nicholas de Traslage, Seignior de la Reynie smiled down at his son. “Perhaps. If he stops cutting Latin class.”

****