Article Category Archives: Fiction

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.”

****

The Marshal Comes To Suhl

The Marshal Comes To Suhl banner

Early April, 1634

Suhl

 

Dusk came early that evening with a light, intermittent rain. Four, in the shadows, watched the old man walking down the alley. He used a cane and wore a wide-brimmed hat and a long coat of some heavy cloth that shed the rain like feathers off a waterfowl. He was softly singing to himself.

Compared to the watchers, he was richly dressed and easy prey for those in need. A short run, a shove, some blows, sift his pockets, and take his purse and that coat. A knife would be the finish. They were four to his one. It would be easy.

The old man stopped and appeared to listen. Had they given themselves away? He left the alley and stepped towards the entrance of a shop—a well-lit shop.

He was getting away! Run! Catch him!

****

The old man thought he heard someone behind him. His leg ached with every step. His destination, a cabinet shop, was just a few yards away, across the cobblestoned street and two doorways down, when he heard a splash. Someone had stepped into a puddle. He turned to look back behind him, back down the alley where he had walked a few moments before.

Four men were running towards him not more than fifteen yards away. Two of the men had knives in their hands; the others had bludgeons or some sort of metal-shod truncheon. Their intent was obvious. He completed the turn, dropping the cane and sweeping back the oilskin coat that uncovered the up-time pistol that had been holstered at his waist.

As the coat flipped away from his belt, he drew the pistol. When the sights leveled on the nearest attacker, he fired. The sound was loud and distinctly different from the boom of a down-time weapon. It echoed, the sound reflecting off the nearby buildings. He shifted his aim slightly and fired again . . . and again . . . and again.

The last attacker staggered, tripped, and fell only a few feet away. His knife skittered across the cobblestones as he slid to a stop at Archie Mitchell’s feet. Archie remained in a slightly crouched stance, pistol sights sweeping from side to side searching for any further threats. There were none. He heard nothing other than the ringing in his ears from the reports of the pistol.

Archie stepped forward, ready for any movement, and checked the bodies. Young men, he thought, out for an evening’s fun, mayhem and profit. Or . . . mercenaries, perhaps? They were not as young as he thought at first glance. They were well-muscled and well-fed. No, they were not ordinary cutpurses. He kicked the knives and bludgeons away from the bodies in case one was shamming.

He scanned the surrounding buildings. Some were dark, abandoned, not uncommon in this part of Suhl. No faces peered from windows; no lights appeared in darkened rooms, no sound of someone running to investigate the shots in the night. Curious. And where is the watch?

Archie looked at the bodies. They had sought a victim and had found something else. He replaced the half-empty magazine in his pistol with a fresh one and holstered the pistol. Next, he stooped to pick up his cane, the scattered fired brass, and then, grunting softly, he straightened and placed the spent brass in a pocket. With cane in hand, he continued towards his destination where Heinrich Buch was waiting. Someone there could fetch the watch. As he walked, he resumed singing softly, “St. James Infirmary,” alert for others who might wish to interrupt his walk. He did not notice that his leg no longer ached.

Friedrich Achen watched silently from the shadows. Frustrated, he stepped back further into the darkness and slipped quietly away.

****

 

Early March, 1634

Grantville

 

Judge Riddle sat behind his office desk. Harley Thomas, Dieter Issler, and Max Huffman were present, seated in well-padded side chairs. Archie Mitchell, however, was late.

Harley, Max, and Archie had been discharged from the Army just three hours previously. An hour before, with their families watching, Judge Riddle had sworn Max, Harley and Archie in as new SoTF marshals and Dieter as a SoTF deputy marshal.

The day was bright with a light southern breeze that brought a warming hint of spring. The warmth was a welcome break to the cold of winter and had melted the season’s last snow. Vina Thomas and Greta Issler had decided to hold the ceremony on the Thomases’ front lawn followed by a small reception. They prepared a selection of light pastries accompanied by a punch made from apple cider and ice cream. Frank Jackson had provided some unknown punch ingredient of approximately 100 proof. The new officers had been sworn in using the Issler family Bible, an enormous book that appeared to be old enough to have been printed by Gutenberg.

The marshals and deputy were now in Judge Riddle’s office. Everyone was present except Archie Mitchell. Judge Riddle was about to ask Harley if he knew where Archie was when he heard footsteps in the hallway—footsteps that included the tinkle of jingle-bob spurs. The door opened and Archie Mitchell stepped into the office.

“Good God Almighty!” the judge exclaimed. “What the hell is that?”

Archie walked into the room and said, “Sorry I’m late.” He wore Tony Lama boots with spurs, dark brown canvas pants, and a white shirt with an accompanying black string tie. Over the shirt was a five-button leather vest; on his head was a light gray Stetson hat. Around his waist was a wide leather belt and holster on the right containing a Colt single-action .45 caliber revolver and a second pistol, in a cross-draw configuration, on his left-front side. The pistol belt contained a number of large, fat cartridges in leather loops. He carried an oilskin coat called a duster over one arm. The other hand held a cane.

Judge Riddle glanced at Max and Harley. Max’s face was turning red and his shoulders were shaking. Harley was not as constrained and was openly laughing—loudly.

Archie stepped up to the desk. “Since you’ve made me a marshal, I thought I’d wear my marshal’s uniform.”

Max spoke up, “That’s Archie’s SASS costume. He was a member of the Single Action Shooting Society up-time. They dressed up like that.”

Riddle looked at Archie, his face turning red in anger. “Be very glad I’m not in court. If I were, you’d be looking at five days for contempt.”  He was not sure if he was being mocked or not. He needed this character, so he decided to overlook this affront to his dignity.

Archie’s look of surprise and hurt finally convinced Judge Riddle that Archie’s intent was innocent. Well, maybe not innocent, but at least not contemptible.

“Sit down, Archie, and don’t try my patience.”

Archie sat.

After a moment to collect his thoughts, Judge Riddle said, “I have your badges here. I asked Morris Roth to design and make them. My initial thought was to make them from some silver dollars I had collected, but Morris convinced me that would only attract thieves. Morris got together with Ollie Reardon and made these. Ollie had some stainless steel and brass stock left over from some job. Morris designed these badges. I had in mind something like the Texas Ranger badge, a five-pointed star inside a circle. Morris had other ideas. He likes six-pointed stars.” He gave a slight grin.

“Dieter, come here,” said the judge. “This is your badge. As a deputy, your badge is entirely stainless steel. Morris stamped your name, today’s date, and the serial number on the back. Your badge is number four.” Dieter stepped up, and Judge Riddle pinned the badge on Dieter’s shirt.

“Max, Harley, and you, Archie, stand up,” he said again. “The marshal’s badge, like Dieter’s, is made of stainless steel. The difference is that the points are brass-plated leaving the center as polished stainless steel. You are all equals as Marshals so we decided to assign the serial numbers in alphabetical order. Max, you have serial number one. Archie, you’re number two, and Harley is number three. Wear them in good health.”

He pinned the badges to the three new marshals and motioned them to sit down. “After much discussion with the other judges, Mike and Rebecca, Ed, and Frank, we decided to initially assign each of you marshals to some specific tasks as we build the larger service. Max, Doc Nichols doesn’t want you to do much fieldwork for awhile. Since you were a first sergeant in the US Army, we believe you would be ideal as the executive officer of the Marshal’s service. Harley, we thought the best area for you would be the marshal in charge of training since you did most of the tactical training for the old Marion County Sheriff . . . among other duties yet to be assigned. You’ll be in the field, too. Since you hurt your knee again you’re on leave until Doc Adams clears you for full duty.”

Judge Riddle paused for a moment, looking at Archie and shaking his head slightly. “Archie, we had thought that you would be the best for the marshal in charge of field operations. I’m having some second thoughts after seeing you in that outfit, but the decision has been made. Don’t disappoint me.”

“Uhhh, yes . . . I mean no, Judge, I won’t.”  Perhaps, Archie thought, dressing up wasn’t such a good idea.

“By the way, how’s the leg?”

“Well, for the most part, it’s healed. Doc Nichols is being cautious, I think, but he said it will get better if I continue with the PT.” Archie had been wounded in the leg the previous spring, and the wound had gotten infected, laying him up for months. The infection had caused some permanent muscle damage to his thigh and hip, hence the cane. He no longer needed it but he had become attached to the cane. It was made of hickory with molded alloy ball on one end and a steel cap on the other. It could be handy at times, he had decided—a knobknocker his grandfather would have called it.

Nodding to Archie, Riddle agreed, “That’s what Doc Nichols told me; you’ve been released for duty.”

Judge Riddle continued, “Max, for the time being, I want you to set up an office down the hall. The first task is to build a table of organization and equipment. All of us will be involved in that. One of the first tasks will be recruitment.”

Turning to Harley and Archie, he said, “Harley . . . don’t go hurting that knee again! I know he deserved it but next time, get someone else to kick the SOB in the ass.”

Judge Riddle paused and looked at Dieter. “You are the only deputy marshal available, at the moment, to take cases. Fortunately for us, everything’s quiet at the moment.”

Riddle looked at the quartet again before he continued. “Archie, I would like you and Dieter to go to Suhl and find a suitable place for a court. Suhl has been a thorn in our sides since last year so we think one of the first courts should be there—establishing a presence of law and order so to speak.”

“The district court system is still being designed, how many courts, how many judges, their area of responsibility, all that. The current plan is each court will have a presiding judge who’s in charge and two or three associate judges to help and take cases. You’ll need to keep that in mind when you look for a courthouse. We’re planning to place a troop of Mounted Constabulary there as well but that’s not your concern once they’re in place. They’ll use the old Swedish garrison barracks. It’s been turned over to us. Check it out when you get there, hire some people to clean it up and make any needed repairs. See if there is a site nearby for the court.”

“How many constables will be in the troop?”

“Here is a copy of the proposed table of organization. It’s still subject to change. Officially, it will be the 1st Mounted Constabulary Troop when it’s all said and done.”

Archie read the document.  A captain, a sergeant, and ten constables, plus a saddler, farrier, blacksmith, medic, radio operator, and file clerk.

“Some of the headquarters folks, like the blacksmith, farrier, and saddler may be local people hired to fill just those functions,” Riddle continued. “I would like you to spend some time with my son, Martin. He will go over everything in detail to answer any questions you may have. Do you think you could leave Monday for Suhl?  That will give you nearly a week to get ready for the trip. We’ll hire a bailiff to take over the admin for the court in May.”

“Yes, Sir,” Archie replied. “Monday will be fine. Dieter?”

“That is fine with me, too.”

“Well, that’s it, everyone. Any questions? If not, then the meeting’s over.”

****

 

Late April, 1634

Grantville

 

The sky was slightly overcast as Dieter rode up to Archie’s home trailing a packhorse. In front of the house was a light wagon with a horse already hitched and another horse tied to the rear. In the back of the wagon were a saddle, worn and cracked, saddlebags, and two of Archie’s old footlockers. Marjorie Mitchell was standing on their porch giving Archie a kiss and hug. They had been married over forty years and weren’t used to being apart.

It was time to leave. “Bye, Marj. See you in a month?”

” ‘Bout that, I think. Be careful, Arch.”

Archie nodded and carefully stepped down his front steps using his cane to support his weakened leg and carried his lever-action Winchester rifle in his other hand.

“Where did you get this wagon, Archie? I’ve not seen one like this before.”

TMCSbckbrd“I had it built in Saalfeld last year. It’s called a buckboard. The wainwright built it from some pictures I had. A hundred years ago, Grantville time, these wagons were as common as automobiles were in the twentieth century.”

“It doesn’t appear too sturdy.”

“It’s not designed to carry heavy freight, just people and stuff, like a small pickup truck. Plus, I can haul more stuff than using a packhorse. Doc Nichols suggested that I not ride a horse yet.”

“What are you doing with that old saddle?”

“That was my grandfather’s. He used to be a cowboy in Oklahoma before he married my grandmother. I’ve heard about a saddle maker in Suhl. I’m going to have him make me a new one based on this design. I did some horse swapping last week and got a couple of good, sturdy riding horses. This is mine,” Archie said pointing to the horse tied to the back of the wagon. “Marjorie’s old saddle fits her roan, but mine, the pinto here, needs a new saddle. My old saddle doesn’t fit.”

Dieter wasn’t too familiar with horses or saddles. He just rode whatever was available. The new horse was a mottled white and brown.

He knew Archie had owned several horses before the Ring of Fire. He’d not thought about it much. Now that he had seen the wagon, he could see how useful it could be. Maybe he should talk to Greta about a wagon and some horses? He was well paid as a deputy marshal. Perhaps they should invest some of that money.

“Dieter, why don’t you put your gear in the back of the buckboard and tie your pack horse to it. It’s forty-five miles or so, a two-day trip to Suhl. That’ll free your hands if it becomes necessary.”

Dieter did so. The packhorse was to be his spare. Both of the horses had been assigned to him with his transfer to Suhl. Everything he and Archie needed for the trip, until their wives arrived, was now carried in the wagon. He frankly stared at the footlockers and bags that Archie had loaded in the wagon.

Archie, seeing Dieter’s expression said, “One of those footlockers is full of ammo, .45 Long Colt for my Winchester ’73 and my revolvers, and .45 ACP for my two Colt Commanders.”

“I brought .45 ACP and 12-gauge double-ought, too.”

“Good, I’ve some 12-gauge, too, a mixture of double-ought and slugs. Ammo weighs a lot. That’s why I decided to take the buckboard—and I can haul enough fodder for all our horses. Grazing won’t be all that good yet this time of year. Help me get this tarp over the bed and we’ll be off.”

Archie made sure the tarp covered the wagon bed in such a way that it would drain rainwater before he climbed into the wagon. A thick pad covered the seat to provide more comfort than would just hard wood. The steel leaf springs under the seat creaked. The pad helped soften the ride but Archie wasn’t going to complain. Marjorie had made it using an old foam rubber camp mattress.

Once seated, he inserted the rifle against the front mudguard into a clip designed for that purpose next to his Winchester Model 1897 pump shotgun.

“Let’s get going.” He released the brake and snapped the reins. The wagon started off down the street. Dieter kicked his heels, caught up with the wagon and rode along side.

Marjorie watched the wagon and rider depart down the street toward Highway 250 and the road that would eventually take them to Suhl. She stood on the porch, watching, until the two turned the corner down the block and passed out of sight..

She gave a sigh. She and Greta had work to do to move two households to Suhl. Time to get busy.

****

 

Late April, 1634

Suhl

 

Archie and Dieter arrived in Suhl in mid-afternoon. The sky had gotten darker. They had been rained upon a few times during the trip. Both wore their oilskin dusters to help shed the light rain. The string of wagons they had joined continued on towards Franconia leaving them at the gate.

After passing through the east gate, Dieter and Archie separated. Dieter proceeded to the inn where they would stay while Archie drove the wagon towards the saddler’s shop.

He guided the buckboard through the streets towards the shop of the saddlemaker, Johann Zeitts. Archie would leave the pinto with Zeitts to allow him to make sure the saddle would fit. The new saddle would cost about the equivalent of forty dollars and the old cowboy saddle, he guessed. We’ll haggle some. Archie suspected that Johann would get the better side of the deal with a template for a new style saddle. I wonder if I could get a new saddle for Marjorie if I traded that old McClellan cavalry saddle?

Johann Zeitts’ shop was located in the southern edge of town. He had started life as a cobbler. In fact, his son, Hans, still worked as a cobbler in a corner of the shop. Johann had become a saddlemaker by accident. One of the leading members of the Suhl council wanted a new saddle, and Johann had made a bid for the job.

He made saddles using techniques learned as a cobbler. His technique, using small brass nails and hand stitching, was new. Several competitors in the area were copying his methods, but Zeitts was more skilled. His business had grown and he was able to acquire a combination shop and home for his wife, married elder son Hans and younger son Christian.

Hans Zeitts saw the wagon pull up in front of the shop and walked out to welcome Archie. His father wasn’t present, he said. Hans led Archie with the wagon and horses through the gate into the fenced-in area behind the shop where a small stable was located. The stable had room for several horses, with three already present. Hans helped Archie stable and groom his pinto.

“Your wagon and horse will be safe here while you meet with my father. My younger brother Christian normally takes care of the horses and the stable, but he’s shoeing some horses at the moment. He’s a farrier and journeyman blacksmith,” Han explained.

Johann arrived just as they finished with the horses. The elder Zeitts entered the front of the shop at the same moment Archie entered from the back, followed by Hans carrying the old saddle.

Wie Gehts, mein Herr!  Guten Tag. I’m Marshal Archie Mitchell from Grantville.”

“Welcome, welcome, Herr Marshal Mitchell. I see you have arrived safely.”

Why would I have not arrived safely? There’s been no outlaws anywhere near here, Archie thought. The comment surprised him. He was under the impression that Suhl was mostly quiet and peaceful after the late unpleasantness with the gunsmiths and the CoC the previous year.

He dismissed the comment and followed Zeitts into the main workroom where Hans placed the old saddle on a wooden trestle that could be adjusted to meet the size of different horses. Johann lifted the stirrups, examined the leather fenders, skirt, cantle, and seat.

“Hmmm,” he muttered. He flipped the saddle upside down on a nearby table to see the saddle’s wooden tree visible through holes in the rotten leather. Hans rubbed his chin and hummed again.

Ja! Now I see the differences. It is similar to some Spanish designs.”

“True,” Archie agreed. “The design evolved from saddles used by Mexican vaqueros up-time and they had Spanish ancestors. It is a working design to allow a horseman to ride comfortably all day.”

“Do you want any embellishments? Any silver?”

“No!” Archie chuckled, “I’m not rich. I just want a good working saddle . . . well, maybe a bit of leather tooling and embossing if it isn’t too expensive.”

“Very well.” Johann seemed a bit disappointed.

“When could you give me an estimate for cost and delivery?”

“Oh, yes, uhhh, tomorrow? Noon?”

“Noon, it is. I’ll be here. I’ve other business in Suhl, but I’ll make a point of being here at noon or as close to it as I can.”

“Would you be available for dinner tonight, Herr Mitchell? Our quarters are above the shop, and I would like you to meet my wife and family.”

“Thank you! I would be grateful, Herr Zeitts, but I’m not alone. Deputy Marshal Issler is with me.”

“Bring him, too. We would like to have both of you. Besides, it does me honor to  host the new marshal and his deputy.”

****

Archie drove his buckboard back into town to the Boar’s Head Inn where Dieter waited. The State of Thuringia-Franconia had a contract with the innkeeper to house them and their horses and gear until permanent quarters could be found. The innkeeper was being exceedingly helpful. He wanted them to remain at the inn as long as he could keep them. The SoTF was paying half again his current rate. More coins in his pocket.

Whoever had made the arrangements had requested a ground floor room in light of Archie’s injury. When Archie arrived, the innkeeper led him and Dieter to an area in the back of the inn where three rooms had been reserved for them.

It’s a suite! Archie thought when he entered. The front room contained a desk, chairs, a table that could be used for conferences, a sideboard that appeared to be well stocked, and waist-high cabinets. A strong-room had been built out of a small windowless closet-like room off the main room for storage of their guns and ammo. It would also keep secure the funds that had been given to him for the purchase of the new courthouse and incidentals. Off the central room were two others made up as individual bedrooms. A door on one side of the central room led to the inn’s bath, jakes, laundry, and an exit to the inn’s stables in the rear. Someone had made an excellent choice in choosing this inn. He was surprised the innkeeper was so accommodating.

The innkeeper appeared and asked for permission to take Archie’s buckboard and horse to the rear stable. “My stableboy will feed and groom your horse, Herr Marshal Mitchell. It will be in the stall next to Herr Deputy Marshal Issler’s horse.”

Danke, Mein Herr. I appreciate your courtesy.”

The innkeeper left.

“Nice place, Dieter,” Archie said.

“Ja. He bowed to me when I arrived. I almost thought he was going to add a von und zu to my name. I think he’s glad to see us.”

“I got the same impression from Johann Zeitts. It makes me curious. Everyone is happy to see us. It makes me wonder why.”

“Perhaps I should wander around and listen to gossip? No one would think twice about me . . . at least for the next day or so, until I become known.”

“Start tomorrow . . . and dress like you live here.” Dieter was dressed much like Archie: oilskin duster, Western-style boots, pants, shirt, leather vest, and a copy of Archie’s Stetson hat—Archie’s unofficial idea of a marshal’s uniform. “Tonight, we have dinner invitations with Johann Zeitts and his family.”

****

It was dusk when Archie and Dieter arrived at the Zeitts’ shop and home. Darkness came early this time of year. Johann welcomed them and introduced his wife Elizabeth, his son Hans and Hans’ wife Lena and Johann’s younger son Christian. Hans and Lena’s two children were already in bed.

Johann and Elizabeth’s ages were betrayed by their white hair but both appeared to be quite fit. Hans and Lena were in their late twenties. Christian was several years younger and had the shoulders and grip of a blacksmith. Hans was slighter than his brother although his hand was as calloused as that of the elder and younger Zeitts.

“Welcome to our home,” said Elizabeth. “We are very happy that you accepted our invitation. Follow us, please.”

She led them upstairs to the family area. It was much larger than it appeared from outside. Johann and Elizabeth had a separate room for themselves. Christian had his room, as did Hans and Lena. The rest of the upper floor was for common use by the entire family.

Dinner went well. Elizabeth and Lena had prepared a leg of mutton, roasted to a crisp, and a form of bread pudding for dessert. They had finished the dinner when, from the stables outside, they heard a scream from a horse. Everyone hurried downstairs, led by Hans and Christian who grabbed a lantern before leaving the shop. Hans saw two men in the stables with one of the horses. One had a knife in his hand.

Christian outran his older brother and yelled at the two intruders. One ran out of the stable and into the darkness. The other, the one with the knife, was slower. Christian threw the lantern at him and it hit with an audible clonk! The man stumbled, and fell to his knees.

Dieter arrived next and rolled the man over. A bloody dent in the man’s temple from the heavy brass lantern was clearly visible.

Christian ignored the other man who had disappeared in the darkness. He ran into the stable checking the horses.

“He was trying to hamstring the horses!” he called, pointing to a slash on the leg of one of the Zeitts’ horses. He soothed the shivering horse and examined the wound closely. “It’s deep, but I don’t think he cut the tendons.”

Dieter checked the other horses. “The rest appear to be all right. I don’t see any wounds.”

Archie and Johann were the last to arrive. Hans picked up the lantern and relit it. He held the lantern closely to the face of the body. He, like Christian, was shocked. Christian clearly had not intended to kill the intruder, just stop him from hurting the horses.

“You know him?” Archie asked.

“No,” replied Johann.

“Nor I,” added Hans.

Christian walked over and looked closely. “He’s one of Achen’s men. I’ve seen him around.”

“Who is Achen?” Dieter asked.

“He’s . . . well . . . I . . .” Christian was hesitant to say more.

“Friedrich Achen is . . . uh . . . a . . . he calls himself a businessman. He has, what he calls ‘a private security firm.’ You pay him a fee and he guards your home and business,” Johann said.

“If you don’t, things happen,” Christian added.

“His men came around wanting me to sign up for their protection. I refused. That is what the watch is supposed to do.” Johann said.

“Except the watch is seldom seen after dark,” said Hans.

“It isn’t seen much during the day, either,” Christian added.

Archie nodded. It was the old protection racket. He hadn’t expected to see it here, in this time, but there was no reason why it shouldn’t have occurred to someone.

“Did you report it?” Dieter asked.

“No. Why? It isn’t illegal,” Johann replied.

“It is if it includes intimidation and extortion.”

“What do we do with the body until the watch comes?” Archie asked.

“Leave him there,” Christian said. “The watch will show up eventually.”

“Okay. Be sure it’s reported in the morning if they don’t come tonight.”

****

Dieter Issler rose early the next morning. The sky was still gray. It was that time of morning just before dawn. He dressed as a down-timer, hiding his pistol inside his knee-length coat. His wide-brimmed hat would not draw attention. His boots were of up-time design but were unlikely to draw attention.

He left the inn and headed toward the riverside gate. That gate was not the one they had passed through yesterday. He was curious if it was manned at this time of the morning. Some cities in the SoTF had become complacent and failed to keep their gates well-guarded. As he walked, he kept an eye out for anyone about to dump their night soil. He didn’t want to get splashed.

****

Archie, having finished an early breakfast, had one of his Colt Commander pistols disassembled on a large cloth on the table when the innkeeper announced a visitor. “Herr Marshal, Bürgermeister Feld would like to see you.”

“Send him in,” Archie said rising to greet the burgermeister.

Guten Tag, Herr Marshal.”

“And to you, too. I’m glad to see you. I had planned to see you later this morning but now will do. Please sit and please excuse the mess. I like to clean my weapons after they’ve gotten wet. It rained often on the way here.”

Feld glanced at the pieces of the pistol, a collection of small, finely engineered pieces of a Model 1911 pistol, one of Archie’s Colt Commanders, laid out neatly on the thick cloth. “Ruben Blumroder would like to get his hands on that.”

“Ruben Blumroder?”

“He is the . . . not the guildmaster because there is no guild as such here. He’s the leader of the Suhl gunsmiths. He’s also our representative to the new legislature. He’s quite influential.”

“I wouldn’t object if he wanted to examine it. The pistol is easy to copy, the springs aside. It’s the ammunition that is difficult. How did you know I was here?”

“Word gets around. The militia guard on the east gate sent word that you had arrived. A message from Grantville said you were coming. We didn’t know when.”

“Well, it isn’t any secret. My deputy and I are here to secure a site for the new SoTF district court.”

“Court?”

“Yes. It will provide justice and legal services for the district—administer SoTF law. The judges will report directly to Judge Riddle, the chief justice of the SoTF Supreme Court.” Archie removed an envelope, wax-sealed with Riddle’s official court seal, from his saddle bag on the floor.. “I have a letter for you and for the city council.”

Feld took the envelope. It was addressed to him and to the Suhl council. He weighed it in his hand. It was impressive. The envelope was heavy paper. Up-time, perhaps. He looked up to see Archie watching him.

“Should I open it now?” he asked hesitantly.

“If you wish . . . as soon as you sign this receipt,” Archie replied extending a form letter and pen to Feld.

Feld looked at the receipt form as if it were a serpent. After a silent moment, he reached for the form and signed it with Archie’s pen.

“Thank you, Herr Bürgermeister. I’ve already given you a quick review of its contents,” Archie said, nodding toward the envelope in Feld’s hand.

“I suppose our . . . difficulty last year is why the court is being established here.”

“I wouldn’t know. There are difficulties in Franconia and I assume the Mounted Constabulary will be sending many patrols there.”

“They won’t stay here?” Feld said with some alarm.

“There will always be some here at headquarters, but most of the troopers will be patrolling the main roads and areas away from the larger cities.”

“We don’t have many watchmen. The militia mans the gates and the city wall.”

“That reminds me. I noticed the militia on my arrival. Who is the wachtmeister? There was an incident last night. A man tried to hamstring some horses and was killed during the commission of the crime.”

“Crime! Uh, we don’t really have much crime. Herr Heinrich Buch, one of our council members, oversees the watch and represents them, among others, in the council.”

“How many watchmen do you have?”

“I’m not sure of the actual number. Herr Buch is the de facto watchtmeister. I think they’re thirty-five or forty.”

“That’s all?”

“Well, the militia protects the city; the gunsmiths take care of their part of Suhl. The rest of Suhl is quiet. There haven’t been any complaints and the cost is expensive.”

“Suhl looks to be prosperous. You shouldn’t have any difficulty raising the funds to add more.”

“There are . . . concerns.”

Archie watched the bürgermeister sitting across from him. The situation wasn’t new. Cities always seem to shortchange their safety whether external or internal, especially when no danger was on the horizon. “Neither the SoTF Court, the Marshal’s Service nor the Constabulary is responsible for running Suhl. You are. It’s up to you and the council.”

“Yes, yes, we know. When we heard the rumor that the Mounted Constabulary was coming we thought . . .”

Archie said nothing. He was beginning to understand why he and Dieter were being welcomed so enthusiastically. “My deputy and I work for the court and answer to them. Suhl is your responsibility. I would suggest you and the city council review your needs. I believe you have some. That said, to whom should I report the incident?”

“Oh, well, Herr Buch, I suppose. We rarely have anything untoward reported.”

“Very well, I’ll pay him a visit. By the way, would you suggest someone I could see about what is available for a courthouse? The constabulary will use the former Swedish barracks.”

Feld seemed startled at that piece of information. “I’ll check with the council. One of them should know. I’ll ask them to see you.”

“Good, good. I appreciate your assistance.”

Feld glanced at Archie, looked down to the envelope still in his hand and nodded. Rising, he said, “I’ll present this to the council. Guten Tag, Herr Marshal.”

Guten Tag, Herr Bürgermeister.”

****

Dieter found the riverside gate manned by a very young militiaman, an apprentice to a local gunsmith he discovered. The youngster had a blue cloth tied to his sleeve and he was watching a farmer pass through the gate in an ox-drawn cart. The gate guard was unarmed as far as Dieter could see. He was just standing at the side of the gate watching people go and come. After a brief conversation, Dieter discovered the name of the inn favored by the journeymen and master gunsmiths. It was helpful. He decided to check the barracks next. He expected them to need minor repairs being unused over the winter.

****

After Feld departed, Archie had some time before his appointment with Johann Zeitts. The hard wooden chair made his hip ache, and he felt tired. He hadn’t slept well. The bed here was a simple pallet on a wooden frame. He would be sixty this year and he seemed to feel every one of those years. God, I miss the twentieth century. Marjorie was bringing some of their furniture when she and Greta came to Suhl. He hoped she would be able to bring his recliner. Hard beds made him restless and cost him sleep. Sleeping on the ground these last couple of days didn’t help, either. It seemed the only time he could sleep well was in his recliner.

The innkeeper’s wife cleaned up the remains of breakfast and swept the floor and the hallway to the stable. Archie made a mental note to tip her for her efforts.

He reassembled the Colt Commander, inserted a loaded magazine, chambered a round, and slipped it into his shoulder holster. The other Colt Commander was already on his belt. Rising from the table, he picked up his hat and walked through the inn’s common room and out the front door. Johann Zeitts would be waiting for him at his shop. Archie hadn’t taken but a few steps before he saw a familiar face.

“Hi, Archie. How are ya?” Anse Hatfield said. “I heard you were in town so I came over to visit.”

“Anse! Good to see you. It’s been, what, a year or more since we last met?”

“Yeah, ’bout that. It’s good to see a familiar up-time face.”

“I was just going out. I have an appointment.”

“That’s OK, I’ll come along if that’s all right? We can talk along the way.”

****

Dieter approached the barracks and was surprised to see a number of workers on the site. They appeared to be tearing down the palisade walls. He walked up to the one who seemed to be in charge and asked what was going on.

“None of your business,” Dieter was told.

“I’m Deputy Marshal Issler.” Dieter showed them his badge. “That is SoTF property and the barracks of the Mounted Constabulary troop that should be arriving shortly. That makes it my business.”

“Don’t know anything about that. I was told to tear down the walls and that’s what I’m going to do.”

“Who’s your boss?”

“That’s none of your business, either. Now go or we’ll make you go.”

Dieter saw that he was outnumbered by six to one. He’d better pass this to Archie. “I’ll be back. I strongly suggest you have your boss here when I return.”

****

“. . . I managed some leave to talk over some business with Pat Johnson, on condition I bring back more guns,  so I’ll be leaving in a few days to rejoin the army. There won’t be many up-timers here after that, just Pat, the Reardons, Gary and Gaylynn, and maybe one or two others,” Anse Hatfield said.

“Marjorie is coming in a few weeks along with Dieter’s wife, Greta. I don’t think there will be any more up-timers here after she arrives.” After a pause, Archie said,

“You just didn’t come to see me because we’re old friends. What’s on your mind?”

“There’s a problem here, a gang. I was starting to get a handle on it but now I’m leaving. I wanted to fill you in and ask if you’d look into it.”

“A gang that’s running a protection and extortion racket?”

“Yeah, among other things.”

“I’ve heard. I met one of them last night who was trying to cripple a horse. I understand he’s one of Achen’s men. Who is this Achen?”

“I don’t know too much. I’ve heard that he’s the new son-in-law of one of the city councilmen. They don’t try much in my part of town but they work the rest of Suhl and outside the gates. The watch never seems to be around when something happens. When they finally show up, they don’t do much. No one is caught and things just seem to get worse. It’s getting so that it’s not safe on the streets after dark.”

“I thought the Jaegers were helping to take care of things?”

“Only in our part of town, and most of them are gone.”

“That’s twice you’ve said, ‘my part of town.’ What do you mean?”

“Where the gunsmiths are, their shops and homes. After the, ahhh, incident last year, they’ve kept the peace in their area. The city council is supposed to handle the rest of town. They don’t. They think the militia is enough . . . you can’t keep the peace by manning the walls and gates with unarmed boys.”

“And the watch?”

“They seem more interested in patrolling the ‘better’ parts of town. The homes and businesses of the council members and others.”

“I met with Feld, the bürgermeister, this morning. He said they only have thirty-five to forty watchmen for the whole town.”

“I know. It’s one of the problems here in Suhl. Saves them money, don’cha know. I’m surprised the council hasn’t called for help. I’ve heard rumors that the council is deadlocked on that.”

“They need about seventy-five to a hundred men if they are to have good day and night patrols,” Anse continued. “They think the militia will fill in for their lack of watchmen. The militia has to provide their own weapons, and most militia members work for the gunsmiths and their families.”

“Where have I heard this before?”

“Yeah. Almost like old times.”

“Dieter Issler is my deputy—do you know him?”

“No . . . don’t think I do.”

“He’s out scouting the town. I’d appreciate it if you’d have a talk with Pat and Gary and ask them to keep their ears open and give us a holler if they hear anything we should know.”

“I can do that. I’m glad Pat and Gary aren’t in the army. I don’t really want to go but I haven’t a choice.”

“They kicked me, Max Huffman, and Harley Thomas out of the army and made us marshals. Frankly, I’m glad I’m not in anymore.”

“I better get back. I’ll drop by one more time before I leave.”

“Thanks, Anse, I appreciate it.”

****

Ruben Blumroder looked up from his workbench when Anse walked through the door. “Did you meet him?”

“Yep. I think ol’ Arch will do. He asked me about Achen before I had a chance. He’s already got some feelers out gathering information.”

“Tell me about him.”

“He’s hard to describe. He’s a SoTF marshal now. He was a deputy sheriff up-time, an army vet, up-time, not just here. He’s a combat vet, too.”

“What’s he like?”

“Well, like many up-timers, Archie has some . . . eccentricities. He has always been a cowboy fan. Have you heard about Westerns?”

“Ja, but I don’t think I understand.”

“Westerns are stories about the American West in the nineteenth century—the American Frontier. Archie lives it. Up-time he was a member of a group that had action shooting matches using old-style weapons—revolvers, rifles, usually lever-action, double-barreled shotguns, weapons that were common in the nineteenth century. Sometime they even shoot from horseback, and they dressed up in costumes like those from the West. Archie, too.  Like I said, he lives it.”

“Is he crazy?”

“No. Absolutely not. But, when we up-timers arrived here in the middle of the Thirty Years war, it was a shock. People reacted differently. Some did well, some didn’t. Everyone was affected in some form or another. Living as a real Old West marshal is Archie’s way of coping—but don’t doubt his competency. That would be a mistake. His, uh, eccentricity aside, he’s a tough lawman.”

“Good! We need someone like that.”

“I think Archie will do.”

“I have a meeting tonight with some of the other craftmasters. I’ll tell them about our new marshal.”

****

Guten Tag, Herr Zeitts,” Archie said as he entered Zeitts’ workshop.

Guten Tag, Herr Marshal.”

“Well, what do you think.” Archie pointed to the disassembled saddle on Zeitts’ workbench.

“I can do it,” Zeitts affirmed.

When the haggling was over, Zeitts and Archie had an agreement. Zeitts would finish the saddle in two weeks unless there was an unforeseen circumstance to delay delivery.

Archie and Johann Zeitts were shaking hands on the deal when Christian entered the workshop with the aid of his brother. Christian had been badly beaten, one eye almost closed.

“What happened?” Johann asked rushing to Christian’s side.

“Achen’s men caught him outside. They were looking for their man who didn’t come home last night. It was their two on Christian until I arrived.”

“Where are they?” Archie asked referring to Achen’s men. “Are they still around?”

“They ran up the street. I don’t know where. Don’t go after them,” Han said. “They outnumber you.”

“I think I can handle them.” Archie said as he left the shop. Outside he surveyed the scene. Zeitts’ shop was next to the city’s wall. A ring road ran parallel to the wall with homes and shops lining the cobblestoned street. A number of people were out walking the street but none appeared to be watching Zeitts’ shop.

“They ran that way,” Hans said, pointing to the left. The street ended where it met another that led to the eastern gate.

Danke. Tell your father I’ll look into this.” With that, he stepped into the street and proceeded in search of Christian’s assailants.

The buildings on the left side of the street abutted but did not actually touch the city wall. This gap provided space for wall maintenance and access in time of need. The right side of the street was like the left with narrow alleys appearing from time to time between buildings giving access to another alley to the rear.

I need a map, Archie thought. This place is a maze. You could hide an army in these alleys and no one would know.

Archie reached the intersection without seeing anyone or anything suspicious. He had stopped a few passersby, asking if they had seen two men running down the street and no one had . . . or at least would not admit that they had.  That was the problem with a gang. People were intimidated. Individually, they were at the gang’s mercy. If they united, the gang would be ineffective and would soon be removed or would leave for easier pickings.

Archie headed back to the inn. He’d not had any lunch, and he was getting hungry. After he had eaten, he thought he would visit Ruben Blumroder. He seemed to be the real leader of Suhl. Maybe Blumroder would have more information.

****

Achen’s two men watched the marshal walk past the alley where they had hidden themselves. Achen would not be pleased with their failure to extract information from the younger Zeitts.

Friedrich Achen was sitting in a corner of the taproom of Der Bulle und Bär, his favorite inn, when his two men entered. They walked over to Achen’s table and sat.

“What did you find?” he asked.

“Nothing. We were interrupted. Zeitts’ brother and some neighbors came before we had the younger one softened up. The new marshal was there, too, so we left.”

“Conrad’s dead. One of the Zeitts, maybe the marshal, killed him.”

“How did you know?”

“Feld told my father-in-law who told me. Also, the other marshal, the deputy, was nosing around the barracks. He told the men to stop working. They refused but the deputy will be back, probably with the marshal to stop them.”

“Shall we be there, too? Together we would have enough to take both of them.”

“Do so. Keep watch. When the workers refuse, join them and overwhelm the marshals. Don’t let them get away.”

“You want them dead?”

“No, not yet. I need to know why they’re here.”

“Your father-in-law doesn’t know?”

“He says not. I’m not sure I believe him.”

“We’ll find out. The marshal doesn’t look all that strong. He uses a cane.”

“Go. Wait for them as long as it takes.”

****

After following the directions from several people, Archie arrived at Ruben Blumroder’s shop located on the same street as Pat Johnson’s US Waffenfabrik. He heard a shot from the rear of the building. Instead of entering the front, Archie walked down the adjacent alley to the rear where Blumroder and a couple of men were testing long arms. He stood watching them load the long guns with patched balls. Rifles, he assumed. The target was a wooden board attached to a large square wooden post that was at least a foot on each side.  There were numerous holes in the board.

Bam! One of the men fired the rifle which produced a cloud of white smoke. Archie noticed the rifle produced significant recoil.

Guten Tag! Archie called as another shooter stepped forward to the line.

Ruben Blumroder, at least that is whom Archie assumed the older man was, appeared startled when Archie called. He turned his head swiftly and gave Archie a quick inspection. He stepped away from the other two, who ignored Archie’s interruption once the elder man started walking towards the visitor.

“Herr Marshal Mitchell, I presume?”

“The same. I assume you are Herr Ruben Blumroder?”

“The same,” he said with a grin. “I was going to visit you when I had some time. Herr Hatfield told me you arrived yesterday. And here you are. What is the occasion for your visit?”

“I don’t want to interrupt your work but I would like to talk with you about Suhl. I understand you will be the city’s representative to the SoTF legislature.”

“Ja, that’s so. The craftmasters and their people elected me. We outvoted our opponents.”

“The craftmasters were able to control fifty percent of the votes?”

“Not alone . . . but with some other allies, we did.”

“Politics?”

“Politics,” he confirmed. “Come, let us go inside. I have some cider that I’ve been thinking about all day.”

Archie chuckled and followed Blumroder into the rear of his shop. Inside the door, Archie stopped to let his eyes become accustomed to the unlit room. The few light sources were the open door and two windows facing the alley that Archie had used to reach the rear of the shop.  To one side were three rifling machines next to a small forge that appeared to be used to make small metal pieces that would eventually become parts for the rifle’s lock.

Blumroder walked down the aisle to a table where rifles and long arms were assembled. He picked up a rifle and handed it to Archie. “This is a copy, as best we can determine, of your Kentucky rifle. It’s .50 caliber. Pat Johnson had a . . . magazine? . . . catalog? . . . that had an exploded view of this rifle. We created our molds from that and refined the final product to be this rifle.”

To Archie, it appeared to be very much like a flintlock Kentucky rifle he had once fired. The smooth honey-colored wooden stock, forearm and ramrod were expertly finished and varnished with fine checkering at the grip behind the trigger and at two points along the sides of the forearm. The brass side-plates and patch-box were polished to a mirror-sheen that brought out the detail of the light engraving depicting a hunting scene. He hefted the rifle and found it to be perfectly balanced. “A fine piece of work,” he told Blumroder.

Danke. It is intended as a gift for the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. A working rifle, not some pretty piece that will never be fired. I can’t say who ordered it but the commission was very welcome.”

“I repeat, a very fine piece of work.”

“A man who knows his weapons, I see.”

“Of necessity. A reliable, accurate firearm can mean the difference between life or death. A man can be known by his weapon. I’m used to mine.”

“If I may ask . . .”

Archie chuckled. “I’ve nothing fancy. He pulled his duster aside from one side to reveal a Colt Commander in a side holster, then pulled the other side of the duster aside to reveal a second Colt Commander in a shoulder holster.

“Ah, yes, the Colt model 1911A1. Anse Hatfield carries one.”

“Almost, these are the Commander model,” he said pointing to his two pistols in turn. “The 1911 has a five inch barrel, the Commander a four and one-half inch barrel. It’s not much shorter but it can make a difference if you have to draw quickly.”

Blumroder walked into the shop where he had an office—a side room from a larger space where his apprentices and journeymen worked small pieces of metal to insure they fit exactly into molds. This was the current method of standardizing parts. It worked well enough and helped keep parts interchangeable, more or less—a new concept introduced by up-timers. Using molds wasn’t as precise as using a milling machine but would do until those tools became available.

After they were seated, Blumroder asked, “What can I do for you, Marshal?”

“I came, mainly, to introduce myself. Anse Hatfield, whom I’ve known for years, paid me a visit this morning. He mentioned that you were one of the city leaders. I’ve found it’s best to know the PTBs.”

“Excuse me, Herr Marshal, ‘PTBs?’ ”

“Powers That Be. Folks like Herr Feld—and you. I keep forgetting few here know all our language foibles.”

Blumroder chuckled. “I’m not in the same category as Herr Feld. I’m just a local craftmaster.”

“Who effectively controls at least a third of the city.”

“Um, uh, well, yes.”

“And is the recently elected member to the SoTF legislature.”

“True, as well.”

“I think that qualifies you as being one of the PTBs, don’t you Herr Blumroder?”

“Anse said you were different, Herr Marshal.”

“Just call me Archie, if you would.”

“Very well . . . Archie, and please call me Ruben.”

“Thank you, Ruben.”

“Now, what can I do for you, Archie?”

“Information, really. Anse alluded to some troubles here in Suhl—different from last year. A gang, he said.”

“Yes, Friedrich Achen. He arrived a year or so ago. Married the daughter of  Heinrich Buch, one of the city council members. No one seems to know from where he came. He has, as Anse had said, no visible means of support. He hangs out at Der Bulle und Bär, one of our more disreputable inns. He has a gang that extorts money from the shopkeepers, selling ‘protection.’ The watch, really the city council, hasn’t done much to curtail Achen’s activities. It’s not our, the militia’s, responsibility, either. Achen knows better than to bother us.”

“Your militia?”

“The city’s militia. However, we—the gunsmiths and the remaining Jaegers, are the largest contingent of the militia. The Jaegers answer to us . . . me . . . for the moment. Patrolling is not a responsibility I—we want. It’s been thrust upon us. We ensure our people are safe. That’s all we can do.”

“I see. It’s not my responsibility, either. But, like you said, sometimes it is thrust upon us.”

“Have you met the council, yet?”

“I met with Herr Feld this morning. He arrived on my doorstep bright and early. I had some documents for him and the council and gave them to him. The SoTF will be establishing a district court here in Suhl. I’m here to find a suitable building for the court. And a troop of the SoTF Mounted Constabulary will be stationed here in the barracks.”

“I suspect the documents may disappear if he doesn’t like their contents.”

“I don’t think so. He signed a receipt . . . and I have copies.”

“I see Herr Feld’s reputation has gone before him.”

“Don’t know about that. It’s just a standard precaution.”

“I wouldn’t wait, Archie, to meet the council. I’ve been told there are workmen dismantling the barracks. If you don’t lay claim, there may be no barracks, shortly.”

Archie sat silent for a moment. “Danke, Ruben. I’ll get on that.”

“I have a meeting tonight with other gunsmiths and craft masters. If you don’t mind, I’ll tell them about the new court and the Mounted Constabulary.”

“Feel free. It’s no secret.”

“Thank you for coming, Archie, but if you don’t mind, I have some apprentices to oversee. Some need to be constantly supervised.”

Archie chuckled. “I understand, Ruben. That is true even up-time. Guten Tag.”

Guten Tag, Archie.”

****

Dieter arrived at the Boar’s Head Inn in time to see Archie enter before him. “Archie!” he called. “There’s a problem.”

Archie turned at the entrance to their rooms and asked, “The barracks?”

“Ja. It’s being torn down.”

“I know. Ruben Blumroder told me. He’s the head of Suhl’s gunsmiths. He’d be the master of the gunsmith guild if there was one.”

“I told them to stop but they refused and there were six of them to my one.”

“Get your gear. Let’s pay them a visit.”

Dieter disappeared into his room to shortly reappear dressed much like Archie—boots, canvas pants, white shirt and badge, leather vest, gun belt, shotgun on a sling and covering all, his duster. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

They arrived at the barracks a few minutes later. “There they are. That one,” Dieter said pointing to a man in a leather coat watching the others, “is the leader.” To one side were two other men leaning against a partially dismantled palisade wall.

Archie walked up to the man in the leather coat. “Are you the boss of these men?”

“I’m their overseer. So what?”

“Then I’m ordering you to stop work and leave—immediately.”

“I don’t take orders from you.”

“You do now. That’s SoTF property, and it’s my responsibility. I have my authority here,” he said exposing his badge.

The man turned and shouted to the workers, “Get them!” and drew a large knife from under his coat.

Archie stepped back, shifted his grip on his cane and swung, knocking the knife from the overseer’s hand. He slid his hand down to the other end of the cane, and on the backstroke hit the overseer’s forearm with the alloy head breaking both bones. The overseer shrieked at the sudden surge of pain.

Archie heard a click behind him. Dieter had switched off the safety of his shotgun that had been unseen under his duster. He had it leveled at the rest of the workmen. From the corner of his vision, Archie saw the two leaners running towards him. He turned and punched one in the stomach with the steel foot of his cane. That one bent double from the punch blocking the path of the other before falling to the ground in a huddle. By the time the other attacker had stepped around the first, the cane’s alloy head was swinging towards the attacker’s jaw. It hit with a crunch and both attackers were out of action and on the ground.

The fight was over. Two men on the ground. One standing clutching a broken arm and five others with hands up, eyes on the muzzle of Dieter’s shotgun. Archie was panting and wheezing. I’m outta shape.

“Do you happen to know if Suhl has a jail, Dieter?” he asked between pants.

“No.”

“I don’t, either. Let’s tie their hands and march ’em to Ruben Blumroder’s place. I think he’ll have a place to put them or tell us where’s the jail.”

Archie only had one pair of steel handcuffs. He and Dieter carried rawhide thongs instead of cuffs. Between the two of them, they had enough for the six men still standing.

“Archie, I think this one is dead,” Dieter said examining the one huddled on the ground.

“Well, crap.”

Archie checked to two on the ground. The first one, the one he’d punched with the steel foot of his cane was clearly dead. He opened the man’s shirt to reveal a purple blotch covering most of his stomach. His cane punch must have ruptured some internal organ and the man had hemorrhaged to death. He checked the second man. He was dead, too. The alloy head of the cane had impacted the hinge of his jaw. His skull had caved in. Hit him too hard. I need to practice with this cane more often.

“Dieter, take the bossman’s coat and cover these two. We’ll send someone for ’em later.”

****

Anse Hatfield was standing in the doorway of Ruben Blumroder’s shop when he saw Archie and Dieter approach with their prisoners. “Ruben!” he yelled.

Blumroder, hearing the urgency in Hatfield’s voice, strode quickly to join him.

“Archie’s been busy,” Anse said, “Told you so.”

“Ruben, do you have somewhere to stash these folks?” Archie asked when they reached the doorway.

“I could find a place, a storeroom I suppose.”

“Neither Dieter nor I know if Suhl has a jail. I assume there is one?”

“Yes, below the council chambers in the rathaus. I don’t think it’s been used much, not since last year.”

“I don’t think that jail would be the best place just now. Can you keep these people out of sight for awhile, until the Mounted Constabulary arrives?”

“I can do that.”

“Good. Dieter, go with them and get our cuffs back. I think we’re going to need them.”

Blumroder spoke briefly with one of his journeymen. He and a couple of apprentices armed themselves with pistols and marched the six down the street.

Archie sighed. “There are two dead men at the barracks, Ruben. Could you send someone to get them?”

“What happened?”

“They were waiting for us. The one with the broken arm was the boss of the crew tearing down the barracks. He refused to stop work and drew a knife on me. I have a sneaking suspicion the two deaders may have been a couple of Achen’s men. While Dieter and I were taking care of the workmen, those two joined the fight. They rushed me and I got careless. I hit them too hard—with my cane.”

Ruben eyebrows rose. “You killed them with a cane?”

“Unintentionally. I hit one too hard in the head with this—” He raised the cane to show the molded alloy knob. “—and punched the other too hard with this.” He pointed to the steel-capped foot of the cane. “They got too close to me. I had to use what I had. I was rushed.”

Ruben nodded. “I understand.”

“Does Suhl really have a watch? I’ve been here two days and I haven’t seen one yet.”

“They do. I don’t know their patrol schedules. They don’t come here because we take care of ourselves. The council has not asked the full militia for help. Truthfully, I haven’t really paid much attention.”

“I’m thinking the watch should be rebuilt from scratch with a professional wachtmeister who can properly train, organize, and lead the watchmen. The only ones I’ve seen on watch are your militiamen at the gates.”

“There are some on the walls, too.”

“Guess I didn’t look hard enough. While I’m thinking of it, I need someone to help me survey the barracks and see how much damage has been done. I’ll need to hire some workmen to fix it up, repair any damages, and ready the place for the constabulary troop.”

“I’ll speak with some of the other craft masters. It’s about time for our weekly meeting. I’ll ask them to send you a man or two—tomorrow?”

“Good. Tell them we’re staying at the Boar’s Head Inn. If I’m not there Dieter Issler, my deputy, will be. Feld is arraigning a meeting for me with the council sometime tomorrow.”

****

A messenger from the burgermeister arrived early the next morning. The council would meet with Archie later that morning. Archie sent a messenger to Anse Hatfield asking Anse to join him at the meeting. Anse knew, at least by reputation, many of the council members. Archie would have preferred to have Ruben Blumroder there, too. But that would appear to be political favoritism, Ruben being an SoTF official. If he needed a local representative, they would not be surprised to see Anse standing next to Archie. These folk understood family ties. They’d view the two up-timers as kith, if not kin.

Ruben had been good to his word. A master carpenter arrived early. He and Archie discussed the issue with the barracks. “Herr Heinrich Buch owns the barracks property,” the carpenter said. “I heard he bought it from the council. He said he planned to build a warehouse on the site. It is prime property.”

“I’m going to find out about that. It wasn’t the council’s property to sell. It belongs to the SoTF.”

“I only know what I’ve been told.”

“Is that going to be a problem with you? Herr Buch claiming it?”

“Nein. You said you would pay for the survey. It’s guilders in my pocket either way.”

“How long will you need for the survey? A day? Less?”

“Not a day. A couple of hours at least.”

“Would this afternoon be good?”

Ja.”

“Have you met my deputy, Dieter Issler?”

Ja, when I arrived.”

“Come back this afternoon. I have a meeting later this morning. If I’m not here, Dieter will go with you. He’ll keep anyone off your back in case someone objects.”

“I’ll be here.”

The carpenter departed. Archie glanced at his watch. It was time to meet Anse at the rathaus.

Archie was limping slightly when he arrived at the rathaus. He had been more active than usual. He had not been in a fight since he was wounded the previous year. He realized age was creeping up on him.

Anse Hatfield was waiting when Archie arrived. “Hurtin’, Archie?”

“Some.”

“Feelin’ mean and ornery?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You’ll need that with these folks.”

The rathaus was a three-story building, the only one in Suhl as far as he knew, Anse said. The ground floor was an open space used for large meetings, weddings, and festivals. The city council met in a room on the second floor. The top floor contained offices of city officials and departments.

Archie’s leg hurt more after climbing the stairs. If he needed to be feeling mean and ornery, he was ready. He and Anse walked into the council room. Herr Feld sat at the head of the table. Six other councilmen sat along both sides leaving Archie and Anse to sit at the end, opposite to Feld.

“Welcome Marshal, and you, too, Herr Hatfield,” he said. Without giving Archie the opportunity to respond, Feld introduced the other six members of the council. Heinrich Buch sat to Feld’s right, Archie noticed. Each councilman nodded in turn as he was introduced.

“We are here at your request, Herr Marshal, ” Feld said.

“I appreciate you acting so swiftly, ” Archie began. “I am SoTF Marshal Archie Mitchell,” he said speaking to the entire council. “I assume you have read the documents I gave you, Herr Feld. Has the entire council read them?”

“No, I’ve not had time to make copies. A couple of the councilmen have read them but not all.”

“By chance, I have a copy with me. I’ll read it to the council.” Which he proceeded to do.

Several councilmen interrupted as he read asking for clarification of one point or another. When Archie came to the part about renovating the barracks, Councilman Heinrich Buch interrupted. “That’s my property!”

“No it isn’t. It is owned by the government of the State of Thuringia and Franconia.”

“Noelle Murphy transferred ownership to the city council. I bought it from the council!”

“Noelle Murphy didn’t have that authority,” Anse replied. “She was very aware of the limits of her authority. No one knew it had been transferred to the SoTF until Marshal Mitchell arrived.”

“I have the document here. Right here! It’s proof that she did, whether she had the authority or not. You can’t take back what she has done.”

“May I see that document?” Archie asked.

“No! It is my only proof.”

“It is a transfer of ownership to Suhl, not you, Heinrich,” Feld said. “Give it to him.”

Grudgingly, Buch gave the document to the councilman sitting next to him. It was passed, councilman to councilman, until it reached Anse Hatfield.

Anse glanced at the document and looked up. “It’s a forgery.”

“What!” exclaim Heinrich Buch jumping to his feet.

“Look at it, Archie,” Anse said. “Look at the signature.”

“What about it?” Archie asked.

“Look at it. Is it written by someone who is right-handed or left-handed?”

Archie looked down at the document again. “Right-handed. Why?”

“Noelle Murphy is left-handed. I carried messages for her whenever I went back to Grantville. Whoever wrote this was right-handed.”

“You’re a liar!” Buch shouted.

“If I am, it can be refuted in a few days. I can send a radio message for samples of Noelle Murphy’s signature. They can get here by courier in a couple of days.”

“They’ll be fakes! You just want to steal my property.”

“Now why would we want to do that when no one outside Suhl even knew you claimed the barracks?”

Buch stood white-faced, trembling. Abruptly, he sat. He muttered something to Feld who in turn said, “We await your proof, Herr Hatfield.”

“In the meantime,” Archie said, “I’m having the barracks surveyed to determine what is needed for its full restoration. No work will be done until the council has proof the transfer of the barracks to Suhl was fraudulent. I also warn you now that the Court of the State of Thuringia-Franconia will be very interested how this all happened.”

****

“. . . that was the end of the meeting,” Archie told Dieter. “I’m very glad Anse was there. Otherwise, we’d be in a mess, a big lawsuit probably. Just the thing to kick off the new court here in Suhl. So how was your afternoon with the carpenter?”

“Interesting. A stonemason joined us at the barracks. Apparently, the Swedes had built a stone armory for their munitions and a stone outbuilding that could easily be converted to be a jail, guardhouse, whatever you call it. Strong fitted stone walls and floors, and thick iron studded doors. A little dark, no windows, but the stonemason said those could be added if we wanted.”

“I think we’ll have to do that. If we make that the holding prison for the court, the prisoners will need access to light and air.”

“He’s coming by here tomorrow. I can tell him then. He and the master carpenter will draw up some estimates for us, cost and time to do all the renovation.”

“Good. Now, we have to find a courthouse.”

“I think I found one.”

“Oh? Where?”

“Right next to the barracks. You remember that building right next to the place where the wall had been torn down?”

“Vaguely.”

“It’s part of the barracks. It was quarters for the officers and their headquarters. They didn’t like the spaces in the barracks proper so they included that building when they appropriated the property for the barracks. I was told Buch had owned it before it was seized by the Swedes.”

“That explains much.”

“Yes, it does.”

“I didn’t go in today but I think we should give it a look over as soon as we can.”

“I agree. Tomorrow?”

“Let’s see, the carpenter and stonemason are coming in the morning. We could go with them. I don’t remember any other appointments, do you?”

Their conversation was interrupted by a knock on their door. The innkeeper entered. “Herr Marshal, this message just arrived for you.”

Danke. I appreciate your promptness.”

The innkeeper left to return to the taproom in the front of the inn. Archie tried to read the message but it was handwritten, and poorly at that. “Can you read this, Dieter?”

“Well. Uh, it’s from Heinrich Buch. I think he is offering an apology and would like to meet you tonight at . . .” he glanced at his watch, a gift from Greta, “at around 9 PM, if I’m reading this right. His handwriting is terrible!”

“Huh! I wonder what he wants? After the meeting today, I wouldn’t think he wants to meet for hugs and kisses.”

“What?” It was another of Archie’s witticisms that always surprised Dieter.

“Never mind. Ask the innkeeper to send a messenger to Buch and tell him I’ll be there. Remind me that we need to budget for messenger service.”

“I’ll do that. Is it alright if I don’t go with you? One of my horses has cast a shoe. I’d like to take it to Christian Zeitts and get it shod.”

“Go ahead. I don’t think Buch is going to try anything, not now that all has been exposed.”

****

Archie entered Buch’s shop. The smell of burned powder still lingering on his duster and clothes.

Heinrich Buch approached from the rear of the cabinetry shop. “Herr Marshal.”

“Herr Buch. I think you have a mess out front. There are four dead bodies.”

“I heard.” He sighed. “I need to confess.”

“Luring me here to be killed?”

“No! No, I . . . I didn’t know what was planned. My son-in-law told me to invite you here. He . . . uh . . . he forced me.”

“How?”

“My daughter. She’s six months with child. Achen beats her. I’m afraid he’ll kill her.”

“Isn’t that frowned upon?”

“Yes, no, the church won’t interfere. It’s not against the law if it’s just a beating. There’s no one.”

“I know how that can be. I’ve seen it often enough. Back up-time, if something like this occurred, a man gathered his friends and family and fixed the problem, put the son of a bitch in the hospital. No one talks, nothing can be proved.”

“I don’t have anyone that I could trust to not talk. This whole scheme with the barracks is his idea. He told me to build a warehouse and storefront at the barracks. When finished, it and the building next to it could be sold for three times what it cost me.”

“And what did it cost you to buy the barracks?”

The price Buch gave was astonishingly low. “Who pushed this through the council? You?”

“Feld. He gets a percentage of the profit when the buildings are sold.”

“Somehow, I’m not surprised.”

“Now, where can I find your son-in-law?”

“He’s usually at Der Bulle und Bär this time of night. He lives, sometimes, here with my daughter. They have rooms upstairs. But most of the time he’s there.”

“Will he be there tomorrow?”

“He should be.”

“Don’t warn him I’m coming.”

“No—no, I won’t.”

“I think Suhl needs a new councilman and bürgermeister, don’t you?”

Buch didn’t speak but just nodded and hung his head. He’d be lucky to get off with some jail time and a heavy fine. He and Feld both. The SoTF was hard on public corruption.

****

Archie wished he hadn’t given Dieter time off to get his horse shod. He wasn’t up to bracing Achen in his own territory. He didn’t know how many men Achen had. Seven of them were now pushing up daisies. He could easily have more. Tomorrow would do. He and Dieter would scout Der Bulle und Bär. If Achen was there, he and Dieter would arrest him . . . one way or another.

He headed back to the Boar’s Head. He felt fine. The adrenaline hit made his aches and pains slip away.

He walked through the Boar’s Head doorway and made his way over to a table in the corner. He didn’t drink much but once in a while, he liked a beer. “Ein bier, Mein Herr,” he called to the innkeeper. The beer arrived in a large mug, still foaming. The innkeeper brewed it himself. It wasn’t what he liked, but in the time since the Ring of Fire, he had become accustomed to the down-time brew. It would do.

****

Archie slept late the next morning. He had left Dieter a note on his bedroom door to postpone the follow-up with the carpenter and stonemason for a day. He and Dieter had law business to attend to today.

TMCStrnchA visit to the jakes, a bath, and he was ready. He retrieved his Model 1897 shotgun from their makeshift armory and dumped a handful of double-aught shells in his side coat pocket. He loaded the shotgun with five more shells of double-aught buck. The shotgun was once known as a trench gun. It had a twenty-inch barrel, and, at one time, a bayonet lug. Archie had never owned a bayonet for the shotgun. He was well off without it. All a bayonet did, in close quarters, was get in the way.

Dieter stood waiting. He, too, had his double-barreled shotgun ready and his Colt 1911 on his belt. The two walked out through the front of the Boar’s Head Inn, Archie in front with Dieter following. The innkeeper did a double-take as they passed. They were armed and appeared ready for business.

Der Bulle und Bär was in a part of Suhl that Archie had not yet visited. It was nestled  in the shade of  the city wall. Archie and Dieter walked up to the entrance. Dieter opened the door and stepped aside to let Archie enter first.

Archie walked in and stepped to one side. Dieter followed and stepped to the other side. Neither were silhouetted against the open doorway.

Schlick-schlock! The strange sound caused Achen to look up, interrupting his conversation with his last two men.

“Friedrich Achen,” Archie said. “You are under arrest for fraud, extortion, assault on a SoTF marshal, and murder. Place your hands on your head and stand up!”

Achen looked into three shotgun barrels, the double-barrel in Dieter’s hands and the one in Archie’s. Both marshals stood covering the inn’s common room, their six-pointed badges clearly visible in the dimness of the inn.

No one moved. Then, Achen slowly raised his hands, put them on his head and slowly rose. The other two sitting at his table didn’t move, neither scarcely breathed.

“Step forward and turn around.”

Achen did so.

“I’m using my good steel handcuffs on you, Achen. The rest of you—don’t interfere. Stay where you are and don’t move until we’re gone. Don’t follow us either. We can take you all out if necessary.”

The room remained silent. None doubted his word. Archie and Dieter pulled Achen with them and backed out of the room. Dieter kept watch as they headed for Ruben Blumroder’s shop.

“We REALLY need a jail, Dieter.” Archie said as they neared the gunshop. “This is just getting repetitious.”

****

Mid-May, 1634,

Suhl

 

A Mounted Constabulary trooper dismounted outside the entrance of the Boar’s Head Inn. The inn’s stableboy took the horse’s reins and led it to the stables in back for watering while the trooper went inside the inn. “Where may I find Marshal Mitchell?” he asked.

“He’s in back. Wait. I’ll get him,” the innkeeper replied and disappeared into the rear of the inn to reappear a few minutes later with the Marshal.

“I’m Marshal Mitchell.” he told the trooper.

“Sir, the 1st Mounted Constabulary Troop with Frau Mitchell and Frau Issler should arrive in two hours. Captain Gruber sent me ahead to tell you.”

“That’s very good news, trooper.” Archie, walked back to the rear doorway and shouted, “Dieter! They’re here. Want to ride out to greet them?”

“Yes!” Dieter replied from the rear of the inn.

Archie returned to the trooper and said, “Have a beer on me while we saddle our horses. We’ll ride back with you.”

Danke, Herr Marshal.” The trooper never refused a free beer. He took his time to finish it and then walked out the front entrance in time to see Archie and Dieter appear on horseback with the stableboy leading the trooper’s horse.

“Lead off,” Archie instructed after the trooper had mounted, and the three departed.

They rode down the road that ran along the river until they found the troop and several accompanying wagons coming towards them. Archie saw Marjorie sitting on one wagon. Greta was seated on another. Both wagons, covered by waterproof tarps, were heavily loaded and driven by MC troopers.

“I think Majorie and Greta brought everything but the kitchen sink,” Archie said to Dieter as they approached the troop. Archie greeted the officer in the lead and then rode down the column until he reached Marjorie’s wagon. Dieter rode on to the next wagon and Greta.

“Hi, Marj, I’ve missed you,” Archie said pulling up next to the wagon.

“Arch, I missed you, too…I’m glad to be here. You’re looking good.”

“Feel good, too. I was really whupped when I first got here. Dieter and I had some troubles but that’s all cleared up.”

TMCSsddl“I see you got a new saddle.”

“Yeah, I made a good deal. Where’re your horses?”

“My mare and the gelding are in the string back behind the wagons with the MC’s spare horses. I rode most of the time, but too much made my rear hurt. I’m not up for long rides on horseback anymore.”

“I hear ya. Dieter and I found a nice house in town. It’s two stories and big enough for all of us with room to spare. It’s not far from some new friends of mine, Johann Zeitts and his family. I think you’ll like them.”

“I brought your recliner and our bed. I had to disassemble them to get everything in the wagon but I knew you’d want them.”

“Thank you. I really miss that recliner. The beds here are OK, but my leg starts hurting in the middle of the night.”

Captain Gruber rode up next to Archie and introduced himself. “Is the barracks ready, Marshal?”

“Almost. The workmen should finish up today—just minor stuff. The trooper barracks and the stables were finished first. I left two tall trees standing for the radio antenna according to the instructions I received.”

“Good. I brought a permanent radio station with me and two radio operators. They’ll work for the court. Did you find a blacksmith, farrier, and saddler?”

“Yes, I did. Johann Zeitts and his son, Christian. I have them under contract to give you twenty hours each, each week. Johann Zeitts is a saddler. He made the saddle I’m sitting on. His son, Christian, is a journeyman blacksmith and farrier. I don’t think you’d need them more than twenty hours a week.”

“No, that should be sufficient. The horses were all shod before we left.”

“Before I forget, I did make one commitment for you.”

“Oh?”

“There’s been a shakeup in the Suhl city council. The city watch has been pretty much ineffectual. They’ve not been competently led. The militia has been manning the gates and the walls but that’s all. The new city council has asked for some suitable watchtmeister candidates. I told the council that you would provide troopers to help train the watch and help patrol the city until a new wachtmeister takes over or for two months whichever occurs first.”

“Hmmm. I think I can do that. Some of them can do double-duty for a while.”

“I’m glad you agree. I was put into a spot, and I hate to make commitments for other people. My deputy and I have been helping to improve the watch’s overall capability and with some on-the-job training on a few promising watchmen. We’ve been making random patrols through the city with them but we’re just two and when the court is established, we’ll have our own work to do.”

“I must start sending out patrols as soon as I can, but we’ll need some time to get everything set up and to rest the horses and men before we start. I think we can work something out.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

“You are very welcome, Herr Marshal.” Gruber kicked his heels and rode up to the head of the column. Archie stayed with the wagon and Marjorie.

They rode silently for some time, he on horseback and she on the wagon seat next to the driver. Archie broke the silence, “I really missed you, Marj. I don’t like living alone.”

“What? No dancing girls in that inn?”

Archie laughed, “No, no dancing girls. I hope you like the place Dieter and I found for us. It was a bakery at one time. I had some walls added to divide it into two apartments, one for us and the other for Dieter and Greta.”

“It sounds good, Arch . . . Arch, I’m ready to go home.”

“Me too, Marj, me too.”

****

 

The Monster Under the Bed

 The Monster Under the Bed banner v2

On Top of a Little Boy’s Bed, Bamberg, July, 1636

 

Joseph Drahuta knew how old he was—nine, but he also knew how old he felt—older.

First, there had been the entire Ring of Fire thing, when his entire life changed down to his underwear. Who would have thought elastic waistbands were such a big thing?

And socks! Who would have thought that even socks would change?

From toilet paper to a change in diet, he had grown used to the lack of television and no cell phones and riding horses instead of cars.

Then there had been his adopted brother and sister, which led to the whole sharing a bed thing.

Ulrich snored lightly beside him.

Joseph Drahuta was used to sharing a bed by now. It certainly was warmer on cold nights when there was no heating like he was used to, only creeping cold that seemed to be everywhere. In the summer, though, things were different. Joey turned toward the edge of his bed where it was cooler.

“Hey,” Joseph whispered, “do you still hear ‘em?”

The silence from under his bed was disturbing. The initial sounds, when they came, startled him even though Joseph knew well this ‘monster’ under his bed.

This ‘monster’ was, after all, the shortstop on his little league team. At least baseball had survived the Ring of Fire.

“Yes,” the monster answered, finally, “but not so loud and not so much. I think the tea was stronger this time. The tea tastes horrible.”

Joseph listened to Ulrich’s soft snoring. Ulrich was used to crowded beds and bedrooms and could sleep through almost anything.

“Momma says you’re . . . schiz . . . schizophrenic . . .” Joseph struggled but he had been practicing for some time. The word was even harder to spell but he could, at least, say it.

“I thought the voices were God . . .” the monster whispered with a certain determined reverence. “. . . if the voices were from God . . . the tea would not stop Him.”

“What do the voices say now?”

“The same. They are just softer now. I can pretend they aren’t real now. Playing baseball helps. You have to keep thinking in baseball. Thank you for letting me hide under your bed.”

“Sure,” Joseph stated, “any time. There’s a big game tomorrow.”

The silence from the monster under his bed was unnerving.

“I know,” the monster said, finally. “The voices don’t like me playing baseball. The voices say it is a sin against Hashem to play when I could be reading the Torah. I tell them it is a sin to pretend to hear the voice of God. Amen.”

Joseph took a deep breath. It was always dangerous to talk religion with Shabby, the monster under his bed, when he was like this—in the middle, between listening to the voices and ignoring them.

“It scares the other team when you shout verses from the Torah.” Joseph laughed slightly.

TMUtBzb“I know . . .” Shabbethai Zebi, the monster under the bed, said with a smile you could almost see in the darkness of the bedroom, even when it came from the monster under the bed.

****

A Somewhat Larger Bedroom, Bamberg, July, 1636

 

Meanwhile, in another bedroom, larger with a larger bed that refused to move despite what was happening upon its surface . . .

“Thank you for not trying to wear the spurs this time,” Julie stated breathlessly. “The arguing just wastes time, Norman, and they ruin the blankets . . .”

“I could still get them . . .”

The answering slap was quite loud.

“How do you still find this all funny, Norman? Talk about mental health issues . . . You are a walking, talking DSM full of psychiatric problems, Norman. Worse, you got your daughter thinking it’s funny, too. Karla has enough problems with simply heating water on a stove let alone wearing armor like her dad.”

“Funny? Sex? With you? That’s never funny . . .”

This time the slap was intercepted. Norman Drahuta giggled and even avoided the other hand.

“Norman . . . let go of my hand . . .”

“Never!”

There were, in the dark room, the sounds of a largely friendly struggle then silence.

“At least the bed doesn’t squeak,” Julie finally stated, somewhat breathlessly.

“This bed would stop a tank. They don’t even bother to dress the trees in this century. They chop it down and force it into furniture here. It’s like . . . trying to sleep in a bunker. I think I could get the horse on this bed and it wouldn’t squeak. You know . . . didn’t Catherine the Great . . .”

This time, the slap connected. There were, in the dark room, the sounds of a largely friendly struggle then silence.

The knock at the door was largely anticlimactic but accepted with a certain reluctance.

“You think it’s the neighbors?” Norman giggled.

“No,” Julie growled, “it’s probably Karla. I bet her face hurts. Who is it?”

“Ma . . .” came the muffled reply. The doors, even the interior ones in a place like this, were not hollow core garbage found up-time. You could, conceivably, bar this door and guarantee all but the most determined attempt at entry would be dissuaded. “. . . Ma . . .”

“Pull the blanket over yourself, for Christ’s sake . . . come in!”

The door opened slowly but not for dramatic effect. It was heavy, and Karla was barely seven. There weren’t even the sounds of scampering, childish feet. The floor wouldn’t notice a herd of Karlas stampeding across it. You required a solid, thick floor to support a bed like this one.

The bed barely noticed her pouncing upon it and clambering across its rumpled expanse.

“What is it this time, Karla?” Julie demanded of her daughter.

“Joey’s got Shabby under his bed, Ma,” Karla said breathlessly. The bed was not something to be crossed lightly. Such things took time.

“Shabbethai does that, sometimes, after he takes his medicine, Karla. We’ve had this discussion before. Now why are you up?”

“I heard them giggling in there,” Karla stated suspiciously. “He’s scary when he giggles like that. He’s like a monster under the bed.”

“They are probably talking baseball. Now, why are you up? How’s your face? Is it bothering you?”

“It stings little. I miss my bed . . . back home in Grantville. And Sibylla snores. Sometimes she talks in her sleep, too. She talks in German. You got Joey a little brother why did you have to get me an older sister? She’s mean. We could still adopt a younger sister. Can’t we?”

“Sibylla put out the fire, didn’t she?” Norman was trying very hard not to laugh.

“That wasn’t my fault! If Sibby wasn’t always yelling at me I would’ve been able to concentrate more . . . and it wasn’t really a fire . . . really. It was just real . . . Stop laughing, Daddy! My whole face almost burned off!”

“At least you have one eyebrow left,” Julie muttered. “Snuggle up and don’t get the goop on the blankets.”

There were, in the dark room, the sounds of a largely friendly snuggle then silence.

“What are we going to do about that monster under the bed?” Julie whispered.

“Get him his own bed?” Karla asked, nestled between her two parents.

“People in town are watching you and him like cats watching twitching string. They want to see if this ‘medicine’ thing works or not. It seems a lot of people ‘hear voices’ in seventeenth-century Germany. That ‘tea’ is gonna be popular, I bet. I can’t believe my little wifey is introducing pysch-meds to the world.”

“Call me wifey again, and I will introduce the world to level four trauma centers,” Julie growled.

“Mom didn’t mean that, Daddy,” Karla stated from her position of authority. “That was her funny voice.”

“If you are going to be here, Karla, then less talking and more listening. Better yet . . . go to sleep. Sleep helps healing time. If you think real hard maybe you’ll grow a new eyebrow before your brother makes a comedy routine out of it.”

“Is the lithium working?” Norman asked.

TMUtltm“He says the voices aren’t as loud. That goes along with what I know, which isn’t that much, about schizophrenia and lithium treatment. I just don’t know how much lithium I am giving him. I am driving on ice, on a mountain road, blind here. I have to talk to Stoner about extracting lithium. I heard you can get it from sea salt or something . . . seaweed . . . I remember hearing some holistic guy talk about natural supplements and treatment of schizophrenia. That’s how I heard about the seaweed thing. I am going to have to be the whole damn FDA, too.”

“You shouldn’t use bad words . . . hey!” Karla whined.

“Next time it will be your face I slap. Now be quiet and go to sleep.”

“That’s child abuse . . .” Karla muttered.

“She has a point, dear,” Norman nodded ‘loudly’ enough to almost be seen in the darkness of the room. The bed, far too sturdy, didn’t move at all despite his nodding.

“In this day and age I would use a stick and be considered affectionate,” Julie grumbled. “The definitions of child abuse and even the term ‘child’ are very different now.”

“And human experimentation,” Norman told his wife, “don’t forget that. I doubt you would get anyone to support you testing drugs on a kid up-time. Now? Even the pack of Rabbis are listening and watching carefully. Hell, some of the Germans think you should use Jews to experiment on. Makes for some interesting conversation, let me tell you. The CoC gets involved, and things get tense from there.”

“They are not a pack of Rabbis,” Julie grumbled.

“Shabby calls them . . .” Karla began.

“Do not repeat what he calls them. It isn’t nice . . . even in Yiddish. There are some who think I should dose him with something stronger . . . like Drano or something. Solve the whole ‘Son of God’ thing once and for all.”

“Do you think Shabby was really hearing the voice of God?” Karla asked in stark, though largely unseen, defiance of her mother’s previous and horrific edict concerning silence and the punishments for violating it.

“According to the histories . . . a lot of people thought so,” Julie said softly. “He was a worldwide sensation.”

“Wow, you shut up God, Mama,” Karla whispered.

“Yeah, but I can’t seem to shut you up or stop you from trying to go all Joan of Arc in my own damn kitchen!”

There were, in the dark room, the sounds of careful consideration, then silence.

“Go to sleep, Karla. Tomorrow is a new day full of opportunities to incinerate more meals,” Julie Drahuta grumbled. “And, Norman, you say one more damn thing and I will slap you someplace as painful as Karla’s face! Now let’s get some sleep!”

“You say that now but a little while ago you . . .”

“Norman?” Julie whispered. “Do you want your daughter to see her mother kill her daddy?”

“That’s her serious voice, Daddy. I’d listen to her.”

****

A Little Help From His Friends

A Little Help From His Friends banner

Near Magdeburg

November, 1634

 

“Hey, Linus! Where is the sergeant?”

Becker sighed. The party had gone on until around two in the morning, and somewhere in that time, Hartmann had vanished. “Josef, does it look like I have been assigned to keep track of him?” He picked up the stack of plates, carrying them over to the tray that had held snacks, and was now filling up with dirty dishes. “If he felt the need for company, he could ask. Now take this tray to the women before I thump you.”

Jawohl, Herr Wachtmeister!

Becker looked toward the door. He didn’t even have to think about where his sergeant had gone. He knew. Poor bastard.

****

Snow had begun to fall, the graveyard becoming a white expanse in the early morning. One set of feet were walking through it, and they paused at the gravestone. Hartmann knelt, then sat, leaning on the stone, only it and death separated him from the people he loved the most. He set down the rifle, drew out his new pipe, and filled it. Then before he took out his lighter, he drew a flask from another inner pocket, pouring schnapps into a small glass he had dug into the soil in front of the stone.

“I love the present. I wish Alexander were still alive; I would have liked to thank him.” He sighed, looking up into the clouds. “I miss you.” He opened the flask, tapped the glass with it. “To us forever.”

****

Hartmann looked at the sign; Die graue Katze. He snorted. Because all cats are gray in the dark. Maybe there was a more stupid name for a whorehouse, but he couldn’t think of one. What in the hell was Hamner of all people doing here?

He pushed open the door. The inside was all warm wood, tapestries, and the smell of furniture polish. One man, built like an ox and looking about as bright, watched him. If he had begun chewing a cud, Hartmann would have turned and walked right back out.

“Welcome, Sergeant!” The woman who came into the hall was full-fleshed, with a wide open face and brilliant smile. “You I have not seen. Are you new to Magdeburg?”

“I have been here almost a year,” Hartmann replied. “I am looking for someone.”

“Everyone who graces our establishment is looking for someone, Sergeant. It is the nature of the business.”

He sighed. “Madam, I am looking for a man.” Even as he said, it, he knew he had stated it wrong.

The smile slipped. “Sergeant, we do not serve your kind here. However—”

She stopped as Hartmann raised his hand. “No. I am looking for a particular man. Wachtmeister Hamner, who told his friends he would be here.”

At the name, the woman’s smile returned. “Ah! Michel! I am sorry, Sergeant, we get all kinds of people coming here. I am Sophia, the proprietor.” She hooked her arm through his, and like a tugboat began to drag him. They passed into another room.

There were six women in the next room, all under-dressed to show off the wares. The women watched him with the same predatory air he had seen from wolves in winter, wondering how he might taste. The madam pulled him through, and the instant they reached the halfway point, the women ignored him as if he didn’t exist.

Down a hall, then to a door that led into a dining room. Instead of men and women enjoying a meal before their sport, a dozen boys and girls from around eleven to seventeen were seated heads down, writing. The woman motioned for silence. At the other end of the table, Hamner sat in uniform, glancing up, then at an hourglass before him. He stood, walking quietly to where his sergeant stood. “Just another few minutes please, Sergeant.”

Hamner returned to the end of the table, and as the last sand fell he spoke. “Pencils down. Pass the papers to this end, please.” Obediently the children did as instructed. “Now, go to your work. I will grade these tonight.” He motioned, and they stood, the lines of silent, attentive students suddenly becoming a swarm of giggling children as they fled.

“When I heard you were in a whorehouse this early in the evening, I imagined something else.”

Hamner blushed. “I am affianced, Sergeant, and she lives less than three blocks away. I will allow you to imagine what she would do.”

“So what you have been doing?”

“I made my living as a tutor before I joined the Army, Sergeant. Madam Schreiber had spoken to the CoC here in the capital, hoping to find someone who could help the older children who had no chance of an education so they would not fall too far behind. They are paying me a stipend per student.”

“Which he spends here on tea and snacks for the children,” the madam commented. “And once a week he teaches my girls how to speak and read other languages.”

“I don’t know how your new commanding officer will feel about that,” Hartmann said softly.

“Sergeant?” Hamner looked stunned. “You are going to kick me out of the company?”

“Nothing so harsh.” Hartmann pulled a folder from his tunic and passed it over. “You have been transferred to the Third Division.”

“What?”

“Some of their regiments are still being organized. All of us from officers down to sergeants have been asked to recommend men to transfer.”

“Oh.”

Hartmann smiled, but it was that gentle smile those who had known him for a while rarely saw. “As a sergeant, Michel. They may call it something else, but the top enlisted man in the company.”

Hamner clutched the folder to his chest. “I will try to follow your example.”

“Oh, I am not done with you yet.” Hartmann commented, hands behind his back, rocking heel to toe in what his noncoms had begun calling the sergeant’s training pose. “Since you are leaving, who would you suggest for a replacement?”

“Kohlner.” Hamner said instantly.

“Explain your choice.”

“Sometimes he is adamant that he is right, and it took time to teach him otherwise. However, he pays attention when he is instructed and asks good questions. If others are too slow to understand, he is willing to explain until the last trump, though after four or five times, he does get a bit upset.”

“Will he grow out of it?” Hartmann’s eyes bored into the younger man.

“In time,” Hamner grinned. “I did.”

“I agree.” Hartmann stuck out his hand. “Do me proud, Sergeant.” Hamner shook his hand. “Now I have to tell Becker he is going to Third Company. I wonder if he is as observant as you.”

“But first, we must celebrate!” The madam bustled out, then returned with a dusty bottle. She pulled the cork and poured. “Madeira wine, Sergeants.” She handed them the glasses, then lifted her own. “Would you decide the toast, Sergeant? Or shall I?”

Hartmann looked at the earnest face. “Absent friends.” He drained the glass, set it down, and left.

“Such a self-controlled man. He walked through the antechamber without leering even once! His wife must be proud.”

“She was.” At her look, he added, “She died days before Ahrensbök.”

The woman looked at the closed door. “There must be something we can do about that.”

****

Suddenly, it seemed, Hartmann was a prize catch for a dinner partner.

He’d had dinner with his lieutenant and of course Colonel Ludendorf, both with family. But considering his relationship with them, it would have been a surprise only because of his rank. But suddenly he was inundated with invitations even from civilians who would come up to him on the streets! He had gone to three before he saw the pattern.

All had an unmarried woman younger than him as his table partner. If asked from that point on, he merely said he was busy—which was true. The personal invitations stopped, but that wasn’t the end of it. Instead, there came letters.

Frankly, it was beginning to irritate him. He had one of the feldwebel from his company going through them and told him that if any of them mentioned “perhaps you would like to meet my sister-cousin-niece-good friend Frau Whatever-the-hell-her-name-was,” they would be set aside to use to start the fire in the orderly room after he dashed off a quick note saying he was busy. If someone slipped one in without the mentioned woman, he would arrive, stay a polite amount of time, make his apologies, and leave.

Worse yet, both the company and the training company had found out, and there was a lot of whispering that stopped when he was seen.

He was lucky about Christmas at least. One of the letters had been from Bobby Hollering to invite him to Grantville. By then almost all of the training for his present unit would be done.

 

Grantville

December, 1634

 

Hartmann climbed down from the train. It was a wonder. A seven-day trip in less than two. He swung the scabbard of his rifle aside to allow those boarding for the return trip to Magdeburg to pass. Ahead was one of the horse-drawn carriages, and he whistled.

He stopped the cab at the bottom of the hill. While one of the cars the up-timers used could have taken the hill, a horse-drawn one would have struggled. He climbed it on foot with few problems.

The shack was still there, and he noticed the smoke rising from the small metal chimney. Had Kirsten and the others stayed this long? He was about to knock when he heard a plaintive meow. Kočka stood there, her paws on his boot, looking up at him.

ALHfhFct“Kočka.” He knelt beside the door, her head pushing against his hand. But she kept walking toward the rear looking down the hill, meowing, then returning for more stroking. “You miss her, too.” he whispered. The cat allowed him to pick her up—a rare event—and he held her to his chest. Hartmann felt his eyes tear up, and he buried his face against her fur. “I cannot bring her back,” he whispered.

“Minuette? What is wrong this time?” The door opened, and Hartmann looked up. Kirsten stood there, the baby held against her hip. “Oh, Richard!” She stepped down, then hugged the man as he stood. She let him go, backing up. “Henri!”

Poirot looked out, then stepped down, hand out. “Please be welcome to enter our home,” he said in halting German.

“Thank you.”

The younger man smiled and ushered him in. The shack had been cozy with just Marta and Hartmann, well, and Kočka. But he got a glimpse of what could have been. One of the up-timers had made a hanging cradle for little Marta, with enough space for her to grow into for a year or more.

But with three adults, it was like being in a full closet.

Even crowded, Hartmann felt content, watching them both while sitting at the table with Henri perched on the edge of the bed sharing tea. Kirsten stood to go to the tea kettle, and for a moment, when she turned back with a teapot and cups, Hartmann saw himself watching Marta as he held his son, and she looked at him in happiness.

“Richard?”

“Sergeant?”

He shook his head. “Sorry, just letting my mind wander.”

Kirsten leaned across, touching his hand gently. “You saw her for a moment.”

“Yes, and our son.” He smiled sadly. “It was the most peaceful I have been since she died.”

“Well . . .” Henri tried to break the melancholy mood. “If you give us a day, you can have your home back again.”

“Nonsense. I am only in town for a few days. Stay here with my blessing. I will talk to the landlady and let her know.” Hartmann flinched when Kočka jumped up onto his lap.

“I see Minuette likes you. It had taken weeks before she accepted us.” She looked stricken. “But that is not her name, is it?”

“I always just called her Kočka, which is Czech for cat. You gave her a real name.” He smiled gently scratching her ears. “I also called her žárlivý žena, which is jealous wife. Does she still sit on the table and steal butter?” The grins they gave him were answer enough.

“I did not know you were here. I just came by to see her,” he said, stroking the cat the way she liked it. “So I will be on my way.”

“Wait!” Kirsten leaped up, went to a chest in the corner, and brought him back a book. He took it, and opened the cover. “Polyxandres: The Trip to the Future.”

“My master had it printed here first to assure you would get the very first copy,” Henri commented. He opened the book to a page entitled “The Ferocious Yet Gentle Warrior” bookmarked with a letter. “And he said farewell to you in his letter.”

“Did he at least stay long enough to see the railroad completed?”

“He left the town just after it had been announced. In fact, he probably rode it to Magdeburg on his way home.”

“And you stayed?” Hartmann asked gently.

ALHfhFcrssHenri reached into his shirt and pulled out an oddly shaped cross. “Monsieur, I am a Huguenot. If this were seen in public in Catholic France, I could be dragged before the Inquisition.” He put it away. “I would like to stay alive.”

“And we could get married here, even if we are of different faiths,” Kirsten said. “Marta was christened in the Presbyterian church, so her soul is safe. Now Henri and I work for the library, translating books written in German into French and Danish.” She giggled. “We even think of future demand; when one of us is asked to translate, I read it, and as I do, I translate it into Danish, he into French. Then we tell the library so if anyone asks, the translation already exists, and we get royalties when they purchase it.”

Hartmann stood. “I must go.” The couple stood, and Hartmann reached out, gently rubbing the baby’s cheek. “Long life, little one.” Then he hugged the girl, shook hands with the man, and headed down the hill.

“I feel such sorrow for him, Kirsten whispered.

“He feels the pain, but will let no one know it is there,” Henri commented.

They looked to each other. “We cannot leave him in such pain,” Kirsten said.

****

His next stop was at the home of Bobby Hollering. Cassandra hugged him with their young son in her arms, which as an almost five-year-old, he protested at the top of his lungs. “Hush Bobby Hay, or you’ll get swatted.”

The child kept complaining loudly.

Hartmann knelt down, eyes even with the struggling boy until he had the child’s attention. “Stop that,” he said sharply. The boy shut up, and Hartmann continued in a tone of voice that can only be called You-Will-Obey. “Now I have some business to conduct with your father, and I see no reason I should have to shout because you want to scream. So we will make a contract, you and I. You will sit silent and obedient until my business is done, and afterward if you have behaved, and your parents agree, you can see this—” He lifted his shoulder to make the sheathed rifle bounce. “—in action.”

The boy considered and his wriggling stopped, then he tapped his mother’s arm. “I accept, Sergeant. Would you please put me down, Mama?” Cassie gave a bemused smile as she set him down. “May I escort you to my father, Sergeant?”

“Lead the way.”

As they headed toward the entrance to the garage, Cassie shook her head and chuckled. “I expected him to tan little Bobby Hay’s hide! It’s a pity his wife died—he would have made one hell of a father.”

****

“Hello, Richard.” Bobby Hollering leaped to his feet and shook his hand. Then he looked at his son standing quiet. “And that ain’t usual. Why did you stop caterwauling?”

“I had a discussion with the boy.” Hartmann looked down. “And he agreed to behave, at least as long as I am here.” The boy’s head bounced a nod like a bobble-headed doll.

“Pity you don’t live in town. You could start a military school, and he would be your first student. So, let me see her.”

Hartmann opened the flap on the doeskin case and drew out the rifle he had gotten as a birthday gift. Bobby took it, opened the breech and looked down the barrel. “What does she fire?”

“Fifty-two caliber, four hundred forty grain bullet, with a powder charge of eighty grains.”

“Workable. Though back in 1997 when they tested the Sharps rifle they found out that the heavier five hundred and fifty worked better for long range.” He went to a box against the wall. “I bought a Creedmoor Vernier sight for a friend in Fairmont. Of course, he got left up-time.” The gunsmith, like a wizard of legend, ignored him as he marked the stock of the rifle, drilled two holes, and anchored the long-range sight. “Looks like they just copied the Buffalo rifle cartridge. Sharps made a cartridge that could take up to one hundred grains. Means we can too. But no loads from them, right?” Hartmann nodded. “I have a reloading kit made up for the rifle. So that is not a problem.” He worked silently. An up-timer had commented once, “Never meddle in the affairs of a wizard,” and Hartmann understood it now.

Bobby Hollering turned around. “Now the rubber hits the road. We can shoot using their top load of eighty grains of powder. You will have to use it in combat to figure the difference with one hundred grains. That needs a decent range. I have permission from the city council, so I have a section of the ring wall as a backstop.” He looked down at his son, who was bouncing on his toes like someone preparing for a race. “Got something to say, squirt?”

“Sergeant Hartmann said I could see the rifle shooting!”

He looked at the boy, then at Hartmann. “Well, Richard? Bobbie Hay don’t lie unless it’s something he really wants.”

Hartmann smiled. “I did say that he could watch, with your permission.”

“Then get your winter gear, Boy! We’re goin’ into the snow!” The boy squealed with glee, running into the house. Bobby watched him. “You made his day, Richard.”

Hartmann watched him as well. “Can you load one round light so he can shoot it without being hurt?”

Bobby looked at him, then grinned. “Hand me one of yours. I’ll reload it afterward.” By the time the boy returned, the special cartridge was in his father’s pocket. The trio headed out to Bobby’s shooting range. There were targets from a hundred yards up to five hundred.

To someone who was not an aficionado, it was as interesting as watching paint dry. Hartmann would fire a round, Hollering would comment either up or down, check the wind, and give directions left or right. Hartmann would adjust the sight and fire again. Then Hollering would say, “Good enough,” and Hartmann would make a note of where the sight was set. They did it at every range from two hundred yards out to five hundred. After the third or fourth shot, Bobby Hay just paced back and forth grumbling.

Bobby Hollering nodded. “It’s all good, now.” He leaned away from the spotting scope, then glanced at his son. “Want to let him shoot one?”

Hartmann didn’t answer the man. “Robert.” He lifted the rifle and waggled it. “Want to fire it once?”

“Can I?”

“It’s may I?” Hollering corrected, and the boy repeated obediently.

Hartmann had the boy kneel, using the sandbag rest. He lowered the long range sight; the round was only twenty grains of powder, less than half of the original Sharps rifle. He patiently walked the boy through it—rifle tight against the shoulder, aligning the sights, breathing, being gentle, and squeezing the trigger-

The gun fired. The bullet hit the one hundred yard target about two inches low, punctuated by Bobby Hay grumbling, “Owie!” over and over.

“Good enough for a first shot. I can teach you to improve that.”

“Now?” The boy was rubbing his shoulder, but had eyes seeing a future where he was as good a shot.

Hartmann chuckled, hefting the boy up into the air. “When you get older, perhaps” He poked the boy in the stomach causing him to giggle. “First, you need to get some more meat on your bones. A stiff wind would blow you away.”

“Airplane!” The boy cried.

Hartmann looked to the gunsmith, who told him how to do it. So for five minutes, he held the cheerfully screaming boy by one arm and leg, spinning in a circle.

****

“I don’t believe it.” Cassie said, putting her arms around Bobby from the back as they watched Hartmann splitting wood and Bobby Hay grabbing the pieces to carry to the stacked cordwood. “Most of the time I think Bobby Hay just puts up with people. But you should have seen it—him in the middle of one of his tantrums, and Hartmann just knelt down, gave him that sergeant look, used that sergeant voice of his and the boy just shut up.”

“No threats?”

“He didn’t have to. After all, he was here for the sight and staying until just after Christmas, and that meant shooting. He just offered that if Bobby Hay behaved, he might get to take a shot. It seems he just treats a kid like a half-trained recruit and talks to them as if they were adults.” She looked wistful. “It’s a pity about his wife. He’d be a wonderful father.”

“Well, we do have the Christmas party.” Bobby looked down at her stiffened arms. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, my God. The presents!” She charged inside as Hartmann and the boy came up on the porch, setting down the last of the wood. Before Bobby could try to stop him, Hartmann was inside.

Cassie was digging frantically in the presents under the tree. She had grabbed out two, turned, and saw him watching her curiously. She looked at them, then dropped to her knees, crying silently.

“Cassandra? What is wrong?”

She looked at him, and if anything the waterworks went into overtime. The three men just looked at her. “Bobby Hay.”

“Yes, Sergeant?”

“Get your mother a handkerchief.”

The boy ran off, returning with the item.

“I’m sorry, Richard.”

“About what?”

She held the gifts up helplessly. “I don’t buy Christmas presents at the end of the year like a lot of people. I see something I think they will like and pick it up.” She hiccuped, looking at him sadly. “I saw something m-Marta would have liked right after she left to join you, so I bought it. When I heard she was pregnant, I went over to the Bowers home, and Mary Sue knitted some things for . . .” She dropped the brightly wrapped packages and held her face in her hands as she cried.

Hartmann knelt, facing her. “And you thought I would be offended.” He took out the pipe Marta had sent literally from the grave. “But she sent me a birthday present. Why should you doing this bother me?”

“But you don’t keep poking at a wound!” She looked up as if seeing if he understood, then down again in her misery. “How can you heal from losing the woman you love, and the baby you never got to see if we won’t let you?”

Hartmann lifted her chin. “She is with me now.” He touched the bowl where Marta’s face still smiled at him. “She is part of me and will be, always.”

Cassie threw her arms around his neck and cried for his loss.

****

The family decided to go to the annual Christmas party, and while he didn’t feel in a holiday spirit, Hartmann went with them. The room was buzzing, and the most recent Santa was passing out presents. Unlike the second such event, the people understood better what the up-timers meant, so there were dolls, toy trucks carved out of wood, even large ones that looked like the APCs.

Cassie had spent several minutes huddled with some of the women. He shook his head. Would he have to put up with being the prize bull here as well?

Hartmann stood in the corner, watching the festivities as they cleared a space for dancing. The first song was something called the Tennessee Waltz.

Someone approached. One of the up-time women, he couldn’t remember her name.

“Don’t you dance, Sergeant?”

ALHfhFdns1“Never learned how except for some folk dances when I was a child.” He motioned toward the waltzing couples. “But nothing like that.”

“And without a wife, you really have no partner.” She grinned, taking his hand. “Come on, there’s one dance that anyone can do. I will just do what she would have done if she were here.”

Bemused, he allowed her to pull him into the dance floor. She set his hands on her waist, resting her hands on his shoulders. Then she began to move, and he followed. It didn’t look like anything he had ever seen. “We call it elevator dancing.”

“Ah, you do it only on the elevators like they have at the Higgins?”

She chuckled. “No, it’s because you’re moving, but not going anywhere.” She paused, looking over her shoulder. “Damn.”

“What?”

“Up-time when you want to dance with someone, but they are with a partner, you tap the one dancing to let them know you want to cut in.” She glared at the woman, then stepped aside. The other woman moved in, setting Hartmann’s hands on her more ample hips, and the dance continued.

This woman had barely gotten comfortable when she also flinched. Hartmann shook his head, eyes closed. “Ladies, if there is a slow dance, I will dance. But give each woman one dance unmolested, agreed?”

It seemed that the ‘get the poor sergeant married again’ bug had hit Grantville. All of the women he danced with had met him, and some had expressed attraction, but their actions were more to get him back in the habit of dealing with women. Except for fast songs (some of which he asked for once he found that they took requests) or when he went out to have a smoke or to join the men drinking, he spent the night dancing.

****

Christmas morning dawned over gently falling snow. Hartmann came down to find Bobby Hay waiting impatiently. “Why have you not attacked your objective?” he asked.

“We have rules for Christmas morning.” Bobby Hay shook his head making the face that said they had rules for everything. “Mama and Papa like to sleep in when they can. So the first rule is I have to wait until an adult is here. The second rule—” As he said that, a sudden strident ringing interrupted. “Papa forgot the alarm again!”

There was a sudden silence, and Bobby Hollering came down in his pajamas and slippers as he pulled on his robe. He yawned and waved absently at them on his way toward the kitchen.

“Papa?”

Bobby looked back. “Thought you’d be up already.” He glanced at Hartmann. “You didn’t ask the sergeant for permission?”

“I was explaining the Christmas rules to him when the alarm went off.” The boy marched over to the tree, picking up a box, which he brought to Hartmann. “The second rule, everyone gets to open one present before you open any more.” Hartmann watched the obedient boy walk over and choose a present to hand to his father when he came out of the kitchen with a pot of tea and cups. He looked at the stairs plaintively, then went and got only one of his, which he attacked like a dieter faced with an unprotected cheesecake.

Hartmann opened his rather heavy one carefully and opened the box inside it. There was an up-time made powder flask with three narrow screw-on tubes, a box of primers, and a reloading kit.

“Made that up for you. The tubes—” He took the longest one, screwing it into the fitting on the flask, then with his thumb sealing it, flipped his wrist while pressing the spring valve at the bottom. He released it, turned it upright, and displayed the powder in the tube. “Automatically measures the right amount. Smallest one is for your pistol; largest for the load you’re using now. Added the fifty grain one in case you want to try it at ninety or a hundred; just use the forty with the fifty, or a double fifty. Try it in action then decide.” He pushed the valve, and the powder whispered back down into the flask.

The men sat quietly, talking. The boy hopped what looked like a Brillo doll around for the better part of an hour before Cassie came down. Before long the floor was covered in scattered paper, and as Cassie went to make breakfast, Bobby Hay obediently cleared away the mess.

Since he had orders, the next morning Hartmann packed the gifts, including the unopened ones, hugged Cassie, shook the hands of both men, and walked into the still falling snow. Bobby Hay watched him until he was out of sight.

****

Magdeburg

Late December 1634

 

The snow was still falling when he arrived back in Magdeburg. Hartmann carried the bag and the rifle to his quarters, where he put down the weapon, took out the two presents, and walked to the graveyard. He poured libations, then carefully opened the one marked for the child. There was a knitted woolen blanket, a pair of booties, and a gown, all green. He smiled gently, then laid them on top of the grave. Then he opened Marta’s gift.

He looked at the royal blue angora wool shawl, letting it flow through his hands before wrapping it around the stone. “Merry Christmas, my love.”

He sat there for a long time, picturing a Christmas tree, Marta looking at her present, setting it around her shoulders then throwing herself into his arms. He missed her so much. Finally, he stood, walking back to the camp.

He spoke with the sentry for a moment, trading holiday greetings.

“Sergeant Hartmann!”

He glanced over at the heavyset woman walking toward him. For a moment, he wasn’t sure; then he recognized Brigadier Dortmunder’s wife. She came up and hand him an envelope. “My husband is having a party for the new year, just a few men he respects. You are invited to attend.”

He wanted to groan. Not again! “Frau—”

“No excuses! You will be there!” She turned and bustled off.

Hartmann looked at the envelope, then at the sentry. “Do you know where the brigadier is?”

“Sergeant?”

“Just tell me.” Once he knew, he walked toward the division headquarters. At the moment, he felt like a boy trying to get one parent to contradict the other.

The brigadier looked up.”Sergeant?” Hartmann saluted, then held out the envelope.

Dortmunder looked at it, then sighed. “Sergeant, I spoke to my wife about you. She decided that such a brave man should have a better selection of eligible women than the merchants of this city can offer. So she arranged a brigade party for the new year, and you are one of the guests of honor.” He grimaced in disgust. “As is every unmarried officer.”

“Permission to speak freely, Sir?” The officer nodded. “I would rather not go to this party, Sir.”

“You and I both. I did not meet your wife, but mine could teach the emperor lessons in stubbornness.” The older man sighed. “We will have to survive the evening as we may.”

Hartmann left the office in a deep depression. Would they never leave him alone? He heard someone calling him, and looked over his shoulder. Luftmann, who had taken Becker’s place as wachtmeister was coming from the side.

“Sergeant! I was not sure you would be home in time. My family wanted to invite you to a new year’s party to meet—” The man stopped talking when Hartmann raised his hand in a gesture for silence.

“If they wished to introduce me to an unmarried woman, I am no longer amused.”

For a long moment, Luftmann merely looked at him. “Sergeant, my sister who is seven, wished to meet you. I have told her so much about you she almost considers you our older brother. She wished to meet you. I will tell them.”

Hartmann looked at the man for a long moment as a sudden thought came to him. If he did this, perhaps the women would stop bothering him. “I will go to your family home tonight instead. I wish to talk to this girl and your parents about my problem.”

****

 

Magdeburg

New Year’s Eve, 1634

 

ALHfhFlndlrSo at eight in the evening, the party began. Every wife of the officers of the Wolverine, the Black Boar, and the newly-formed Gray Wolf Regiments had brought women they felt would be suitable as possible wives for Hartmann and the five unmarried officers.

Those other unfortunates had already arrived and were jostled into proximity when the majordomo announced in an amused tone, “Sergeant Richard Hartmann and Frau Gerta Luftmann!”

The brigadier’s wife turned. The man no doubt had picked up some street beggar or harlot to make this a laughing stock. She spun, and her jaw dropped. Her husband began coughing to hide his urge to laugh.

Hartmann stood paused at the door to be introduced. Beside him stood a young girl, straight and tall, dressed in a nice middle-class dress, with her hand on the sergeant’s arm. They walked in the sudden silence, and the girl was obviously both elated and terrified. But she walked with him.

Conversations began again, but Hartmann ignored the crowd as he led the girl through, pausing to introduce her to his officers. He reached Colonel Ludendorf, who was grinning. “Colonel, may I introduce Gerta Luftmann?”

“Ah, your new wachtmeister‘s younger sister no doubt.”

The girl curtsied prettily.

“Yes. She wished to meet me, and since this was when her parents had invited me, I felt it was not fair to her to refuse.”

Ludendorf introduced his wife and daughter to the young girl who acknowledged each just as gravely. “Aloyse, Veronica, perhaps you could escort the young miss to the punchbowl. I wish to talk with the sergeant for a moment.”

The women took the girl in tow, leading her away.

“Now you have let the fox loose in the henhouse, Richard.”

Hartmann shrugged. “Until I am over Marta’s death, I see no need to look for another wife, Sir.”

Ludendorf looked around at all of the women glaring daggers at his subordinate. “You know there is supposed to be dancing. How will you handle that?”

“I only know one dance, what the up-timers call an elevator dance. Anyone who wishes to dance with me will have to learn it,” Hartmann said with a perfectly straight face.

“We will see how that works out. Some women will try to teach you.”

****

Henrietta Friedlund stormed toward the buffet, snatching up a plate. She had seen the sergeant from a distance several times and had been attracted to him. But he had been hard to approach, and never seemed to wish to go anywhere she could encounter him more openly. Honestly, it was as if he had no use for women at all!

She had just accepted a glass of wine when she heard a voice saying, “I met his wife a few times before her death.”

“You did? Please, tell us about her.”

Henrietta turned slightly and saw the girl Hartmann had brought, seated with Ludendorf’s wife and daughter. She was the center of half a dozen women, all of whom she knew had set their sights on the man. If being the focus of so many eyes bothered Gerta, you would not have been able to tell from her expression.

“My brother was one of the men of his unit who were always curious about the sergeant. They wondered why he lived in one of the inns rather than at the base. So they followed him one evening. They found that he had paid for the uniforms for the Wolverine camp followers out of his own pocket.”

“On a sergeant’s pay?”

“Oh he actually has quite a bit of money.”

The women leaned forward.

“When he was living in Grantville, his wife bought pipe tobacco there, and they have been selling it for over a year now. Anyway, my brother was impressed. His wife was staying there.” She sipped in the sudden awkward silence. “So Eric would go there. I asked, and he brought me, too. That was when I met Marta, but I did not meet the sergeant himself until yesterday.” She started to stand to fill her cup, but a servant silently handed her a full one.

“I liked her. She was gentle and polite. She treated the men like family, and me like a sister. When they marched, I was afraid for my brother. She comforted me, even though I knew she feared for her Richard as much. She told me we were all in God’s hands, and what must be would be.

“Then she died.”

The girl looked down. Every woman in the now much-expanded silence could hear the tears in her voice as she continued without raising her head.

“Eric told me they were at Segeburg right before Ahrensbök when Richard was told. How something seemed to have died inside him. But he had his duty to his men. He could not come home until they did. So he stayed, and the brave charge?” She looked up. “It was a man wanting to die to join his love. When he charged, his men could not let him die alone. They loved him—they loved her that much.” She began to cry again. “He still loves her. He visits her grave every day to talk to her as if he were just a man coming home from work. Some people in Grantville had bought presents for her and the baby before her death, and he draped the shawl they had given her over the stone. And the baby clothes, the blanket . . .” Veronica hugged the girl as she cried.

Henrietta looked at the small plate, then set it down. She looked at the other women, all with varying looks of embarrassment. We are like carrion crows over a battlefield, dropping on one corpse and trying the eyeballs. She looked at the sergeant, so composed, dealing with the officers who had surrounded him almost like a palisade to protect him. He deserves the time to heal. And by God, I for one will make sure he does.

While she didn’t know it, every one of those women had come to the same conclusion.

The dancing began, but Hartmann was left alone as he led her onto the floor. Other dancers gave them a wide berth so everyone could watch. She did dance that odd elevator dance with him, her eyes shining as if she were the guest of honor, and the chastened women watched the sad man doing his duty yet again.

Aloyse walked out as the first dance ended. “Richard, may I introduce Henrietta Friedlund of Quidlenburg? Henrietta, this is Richard Hartmann, the senior sergeant of the Wolverines.” They bowed to each other.

Henrietta knelt. “May I have your partner for one dance, my dear?”

Gerta looked to Hartmann. “Yes. But he has promised to dance with me again.”

Aloyse led her back to her seat.

“You are from Bohemia?” Hartmann nodded. “Some of us have been taking lessons in up-time dances at the Imperial School of Ballet here in Magdeburg. One dance we learned is an Austrian dance called the Ländler.”

“I do not know it.”

“Then with the permission of your partner, we will watch before we dance.” They stood side by side. As with most things introduced by the up-timers, some of the people embraced the dances, especially the waltz. After watching them dance it twice, Hartmann allowed himself to be brought onto the floor as they began another. Slowly, with a lot of confusion on his part, they were able to go through the dance. At one point, his face grew sad. She moved closer over their crossed arms; hands pressed together. “I do not mind if you see your wife in my place. She cannot be here, so imagine it is her,” she whispered.

Through the rest of the evening, Hartmann alternated, dancing with Gerta, then with another woman. In each case, they all admonished him that they were there to allow him the dream that it was Marta in their place. The one thing he noticed was that unlike the up-time Christmas party, no one broke in to take a dance away from another. By the fourth dance with an adult partner, they were able to teach him the interlocking arms portion of the Ländler, and everyone stood watching as he danced it with Gerta. They giggled when the arm gestures caused a lot of additional shifting because he was so much taller. When the girl began to nod off because of the late hour, Hartmann took his leave, carrying the sleeping girl.

****

Hartmann walked through the night with the girl wrapped in his greatcoat. It was snowing again, and he thought of what had happened. He paused at the sound of bells.

“What is it?”

He looked at the drowsy girl in his arms.

“It is the new year,” he told her.

The girl looked around, then leaned up to kiss him gently on the cheek. “Happy New Year, Richard.” Then she wrapped her arms around his neck and went back to sleep.

Hartmann looked at her with a gentle smile. For a moment, it was Marta he held, who had kissed him, and offered that greeting. Then he continued walking.

****