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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.

****

 

Even Monsters Die

Even Monsters Die banner

Early Spring, 1635

 

Natalie pulled on her boots and grabbed her backpack off the bed. The weather had been mostly wet and grey as spring slowly replaced winter, so she hoped the puddle-filled streets would be enough of an excuse to be wearing boots instead of her normal sneakers. If Mom even notices.

She shoved her textbooks a little further under the edge of her bed with her foot, then stepped out into the hall. “Hey, Mom. I’m headed for school. I’ll see you this afternoon.” She headed for the door, trying not to look like she was in a rush. Trying not to look guilty.

“Wait a minute, Natalie.” Mom poked her head out of the kitchen. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Natalie paused, fidgeting. “Uh . . .”

“Lunch,” Mom said with a smile. She came down the hallway with the lunchbox.

“Oh. Right.” Natalie took it from her with a nod. “Thanks, Mom.”

“You’re in a hurry this morning.” Mom paused, looking at her more closely. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Fine. Just . . . there might be a pop quiz this morning.” It wasn’t a lie. There might be a pop quiz, but even if there was Natalie didn’t plan to be there.

Mom nodded. “All right. I’m sure you’ll do fine.” She gave Natalie a quick hug. “Go on, then. And be careful. There’s still ice in some places.”

“Right, Mom.” Natalie waved as she hurried down the steps toward the street. “See you this afternoon.”

She waited until she reached the street corner before she stopped to unzip her backpack and stuff the lunchbox inside. There was already other food in the bag where her school books would normally be. She zipped it back up, glanced over her shoulder to make sure Mom wasn’t still watching her from the house, then turned left at the corner and headed for the edge of Grantville instead of continuing up the street toward the school.

There were some other folks out, but none of them paid any attention as Natalie hurried past. Not even the other kids headed to school seemed to notice she was headed in the wrong direction. She wasn’t even sure they noticed her at all. One advantage to having no friends. No one really cared where she was going.

She tucked her thumbs through the straps on her backpack, pulling it more snugly against her back so it wouldn’t jostle as she walked, and hurried on.

By the time she reached the edge of town and the big tree by the crossroad, she was breathing hard—cheeks and nose prickling from walking in the chilly morning.

“Red? Henrietta?” Natalie paused, wondering if the other girl had already left without her. “Henrietta?” she called again.

“It’s about time you showed up.” Henrietta stepped out from behind the tree. She was wearing a plain gray cloak, her red hair hidden under a white cap with frayed ribbons that tied loosely under her chin. A sack containing what looked to be her Monster Society costume rested in the grass beside the tree.

Natalie blinked, barely recognizing her without the trademark crimson cloak she wore when they were campaigning. “Hey. Didn’t see you there.”

“I was just about to give up on you.” Henrietta crossed her arms over her chest.

“Yeah. Sorry. Mom wanted to chat right before I left.” Natalie shook her head. “Thanks for waiting. I’m not sure I know where . . . Konrad lives.”

Henrietta nodded. “We should probably get started. It’s a bit of a walk and you said you have to get back by the afternoon.”

“Yeah. By the time school gets out. Otherwise my mom’ll start to worry.” Natalie fell into step beside her longer-legged friend.

“You sure it’s okay for you to . . . skip? I thought that school was important to you.” Henrietta looked at her, part frown and part curious.

“Yes. But I’ve been doing all the extra credit for the past week so it’s not like I’m falling behind or anything.”

“Extra credit?”

Belated, Natalie remembered that Henrietta didn’t go to school—not even the old-fashioned school in the down-timer village. “They send home work each day. A kind of review of what we’ve studied so we can practice at home. There are always a few extra questions that we don’t have to do unless we did bad on a test or missed a day or something.”

“Oh.” Henrietta nodded.

They walked a little further, squeezing over to the muddy verge of the road as a man with a cart passed them going the opposite direction.

Natalie stuffed her hands in her coat pockets. “Are you okay?”

“What?” Henrietta looked at her with a frown.

“You just look worried. It is okay that we’re going to visit . . . Konrad?”

“Yeah.” She made a face. “You say his name funny.”

“Just not used to it. But I figure his mom might not like me calling him Ray.” She grinned. “John called me Scully in front of my mom and her face . . .” She puckered her mouth up in an imitation.

“Yeah.” Henrietta nodded. “Sure.”

“You don’t sound—”

EMDvllg“When I saw John last week he said Konrad was pretty sick, but he should be better soon. But I overheard a couple of folks in the village talking and they seemed to think . . . he was still really sick.” She looked at Natalie, and she looked more than worried.

Natalie swallowed hard. She looks scared. “John would have told us if it were something serious, right?” She put her hand on Henrietta’s shoulder awkwardly. “I’m sure they were just gossiping. My dad says anytime a down-timer has a cold for more than a couple of days everyone starts wondering if it’s the plague.”

“Yeah. I guess.” Henrietta twitched her cloak closer, folding her arms up in it.

“It’s not the plague, right?”

“If it were, everyone would know.” She started walking again, and Natalie hurried after her.

Her backpack was getting heavy, and she wondered if maybe she should have left some of the stuff behind. She’d figured Ray . . . Konrad would like the cookies, but seeing that Henrietta hadn’t brought anything except a sack which looked to have her costume in it, she wondered if maybe she should have left the food at home. Maybe down-timers didn’t give each other gifts while they were sick. Maybe she doesn’t have anything to give.

Natalie hitched at the straps and took an extra couple of steps so they were walking side by side again. “Is it much further?”

“Just around that bend.” Henrietta pointed ahead to a curve in the muddy road.

“Okay. Hold on a second.” Natalie pulled her backpack around and unzipped the front pocket. Inside was a card she had drawn. It had taken a few tries, but the front had a drawing of Konrad in full Monster Society gear on it.

Henrietta peered over her shoulder. “That’s pretty good,” she said grudgingly.

Natalie blushed. “Thanks. I know it doesn’t look too much like Konrad, but . . .”

“No. It’s good. He’ll love it.” She slipped her arm through Natalie’s. “Come on.”

Konrad’s house sat back a little way from the road, a rutted path that was mostly mud and puddles leading in between the bare-limbed trees. There was smoke drifting from the chimney, but the house itself seemed oddly quiet. Grantville had brought with it a new era of prosperity for the lands around it but there were always, always, those who fell through the cracks, even in the good times. The house was little more than a hut compared to the houses that lined the streets of Grantville. Natalie felt ashamed that she had never been here before. How many times had Konrad, in character as Ray, visited hers? Maybe if she had known just how poor Konrad’s family was before now she could have asked her parents if they could have helped them somehow. Konrad was always so happy and giving though. It was hard to imagine he lived in a place like this. Natalie promised herself that she would talk with her parents about Konrad and his family when she got home. Surely, there had to be something they could do for them.

Natalie and Henrietta both stopped at the edge of the yard, uncertain.

The door of the house opened, and John stepped out, a basin of cloudy water in his hands. He tossed it out along the side of the house and then stood for a moment staring up at the empty trees.

Natalie clutched the handmade card, the paper crumpling in her fingers. Something is wrong.

John looked exhausted with deep shadows on his face, almost as though someone had blackened his eyes. And his face was pale and drawn, like he hadn’t been outside in days.

Henrietta pulled her arm free of Natalie’s and strode forward. “John.”

He flinched and moved toward her hurriedly. “What are you doing here?” The muscle in his jaw trembled as he saw Natalie was there too. “You shouldn’t have come here.”

“We wanted to see Ray. I mean K-Konrad.” Natalie stumbled over his name more than usual.

“He’s still sick. You should go.” He glanced over his shoulder toward the house.

Henrietta stood her ground. “You told me he would be getting better by now.”

“Well, he’s not and you need to go.” John grabbed her by the arm, trying to turn her away from the house.

She knocked his hand away. “Tell me what’s wrong, John. What’s wrong with Konrad?”

In the house someone screamed though it sounded muffled somehow. It was a raw and agonized sound that rose up and then abruptly stopped, but Natalie recognized the voice anyway. “Ray.” She clapped her hand over her mouth as tears welled up.

“John.” Henrietta grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

The door of the house opened again and a woman stepped outside. She looked even more worn than John, her eyes bloodshot and pale cheeks streaked with tears. “John?”

“I’m coming.” He looked at Natalie. “Please. Go home.”

But Henrietta pushed past him. “Agnes. Tell me what’s happened to Konrad.”

Agnes swayed, looking up at her in confusion. Then her eyes flickered with recognition. “Henrietta, isn’t it?” She smoothed a wisp of hair back from her face automatically.

“Agnes. What’s wrong with Konrad?”

The older woman glanced at John and her mouth twisted as though she tasted something bitter. “You haven’t told them?”

John shook his head. His hands dangled limply by his side and Natalie thought she’d never seen him look so old.

“Told us what? Haven’t told us what, Agnes?” Henrietta was yelling.

“It’s lockjaw,” Agnes said. “Konrad won’t . . . he’s not . . .” Tears slid down her face, but her voice remained steady. Wooden. “It’s almost over.”

Henrietta turned and glared at John. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

He lifted his hands, helpless. “What would I have said? That he was as good as dead? I thought it would be better . . .”

She shook her head. “No. No.” She caught her dress in her hand and ran back down the path.

Natalie jumped as a horrible noise of pain drifted out of the house again.

John’s shoulders sagged and he went back inside without a word. Without looking at her. For a moment, Natalie wondered if she should follow him, but she knew she couldn’t.

Agnes stood by the door, swaying a little and looking at Natalie. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought John had told you.”

Natalie shook her head and stepped closer. “No. I . . . uh.” She was still clutching the card in her hand. She smoothed the wrinkles out of it and held it out. “I made that for Konrad. I didn’t know . . .” She rubbed her face on her sleeve. “I’m so sorry.” Then she dropped the card and ran after Henrietta.

****

The inside of the house was warm, but sour with sweat. John huddled on the stool next to the bed, wishing he could throw the shutters open and let clean air blow through. He closed his eyes, imagining wind sweeping away the darkness, the stink. Wind pouring over and through the house and taking Konrad’s sickness with it.

But when he opened his eyes nothing had changed. His friend still lay in the bed, dying.

Konrad’s entire body arched up off the bed as another convulsion twisted and shook him. The same terrible scream building in his throat, then cutting off abruptly as he strained for breath as his own muscles tightened to the point his bones creaked under the strain.

John clung to his hand. “Hold on, Ray. It’ll pass. Just hold on, mate.”

After what seemed like hours, Konrad went limp, sagging back against the sweat-drenched sheets.

John wet a cloth in the basin and wiped a dribble of saliva from Konrad’s mouth. “Easy, Ray. Just rest for a minute.”

The door opened, and Agnes came inside, shutting the door quickly to keep the cold spring air outside lest it trigger another spasm. She came and sat on the other side of the bed, a muddy piece of paper in her hand. “Some more of your friends came by, Konrad. They brought you . . . this.” She held the card up uncertainly.

Konrad’s eyes, blurry with fever, trembled, but John wasn’t sure his friend was aware of much.

Agnes smoothed the quilt over her son. The sickness had melted away his rolls of fat as he had lost the ability to eat, as the fever had consumed him, leaving him gaunt and even more fragile. She set the card on the shelf above the bed. “It’s all right. I’ll just put it there and you can look at it when you . . . when you’re feeling better.” At first John had thought Agnes had said those things because she didn’t want to admit what they all knew—Konrad was dying. She always said When you are better. She’d even promised, when he had first lost the ability to open his mouth, that she would try and make him a proper costume once he was well. All your friends will be jealous, she’d said. John had wanted to shake her, to yell at her and remind her that Konrad would not be Ray ever again. That soon he wouldn’t even be Konrad.

Then he’d realized the things she said were not for her own benefit. The lines around her mouth, the redness of her eyes, the way her shoulders sagged every time she looked at her son wasting away in her bed, all of them told John that she talked of getting better because it was the only way she knew to comfort Konrad. And he knew, when she held her son’s hand and prayed through the night, she was no longer praying he would get better, but that he would be released from his agony soon.

“John,” Agnes said in almost a whisper.

John looked over at her, not knowing what to expect.

“I just wanted to say thank you for all you’ve done for my son,” Agnes explained. “Your Monster Society . . . It’ s everything to Konrad. I didn’t realize just how much it meant to him until . . .”

Suddenly, Konrad shuddered, another spasm forcing him into the brutal arch—only touching the bed with his heels and head. But this time he made no sound other than the guttural wheeze of the breath slowly being forced from his body, he just clutched John’s hand—fingers squeezing tighter and tighter.

John winced, but held on. “Easy, mate. It’ll pass.” He’d said the same thing, over and over again, in the past few days. Anything to try and fill the silence. He was usually good at talking, good at filling in the silent spaces when things were awkward, but now, even he was at a loss for words. Ray’s hand went limp and John knew, even before he looked up and saw his friend’s eyes staring into nothing, that he was gone.

Agnes began to sob, the first time John had seen her cry in front of Ray. Only now she was just crying beside him.

John stood up and went outside, unable to stand the heat and the smell inside the house. Unable to watch Ray’s mother weeping for her dead son. With Konrad gone, he felt like an intruder in Agnes’ home. He had done all he could for them, and it hadn’t been enough.

He wanted to smash something, to tear the whole house down with his hands as if maybe, once the house was gone, the rest of it would be, too. But he couldn’t and there was nothing in the muddy little yard to break, nothing to bear the brunt of the grief threatening to turn him inside out.

John doubled over and vomited, mostly bile and spit.

It was not fair. Ray was too young to die. Especially like this. Stabbing his hand on a bit of rusted metal while they had been prepping their last game. Not fair. Ray should have been hanging out with Red—the Monster Society’s round little ghost hunter and the big, tough warrior having stumbled on something more than their first strained friendship.

But Ray was dead and Red . . .

John straightened up and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He knew he should have told her and Natalie the truth, but he’d thought it would be easier on them not to have to share in the grief of watching Ray wither away in the unforgiving grip of lockjaw. Now he realized all he’d done was deny them the opportunity to say good-bye.

The door of the house opened, and Agnes emerged. She was wearing her cloak, face pale but unnervingly calm. “I have to go and make arrangements for the burial,” she said. “Will you sit with him while I’m gone?”

He didn’t want to but how could he refuse? John nodded. “Of course, Mother Agnes.”

“Good. He shouldn’t be alone.” For a moment her lips trembled, fresh tears welling up, but she brushed those away with her fingertips and squared her shoulder. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”

John went back into the house slowly. Ray was tucked under the quilt, his hair combed neatly across his forehead. Almost as though he were sleeping.

John sat down beside the bed. Glanced over his shoulder, but he was alone. Agnes would be walking into the village to find the priest and hire gravediggers.

He reached out and touched Ray’s cheek, but it was already growing cool. Not fair. He rubbed his fingers through his hair, wishing again for magic that would have kept all this from happening. He paused. Magic. It had always been pretend when they campaigned, but maybe . . .

John leaned close to the bed. “I’m going to find a way to make this right, Ray. You hear me? I’m going to fix this.”

The candles on the table flickered, nearly guttering out before the flames stretched up tall and straight. He wanted so badly to believe the flicker was more than just a random coincidence.

John sat back in his chair with a sigh. I’m going to fix this.

****

The sun was almost gone from the sky by the time Henrietta made it home. She had left Natalie hours earlier, wandering about the woods alone, trying to process what the two of them had discovered at Konrad’s house. Henrietta had heard Natalie calling after her as she ran but ignored her. The pain had been so sharp then that she had just wanted to be alone. She felt guilt over leaving Natalie like that especially since she had lied to Natalie about how long the walk to Konrad’s house would take. There was little chance of Natalie making it home in time for her parents’ liking even though they lived near the edge of Grantville. Henrietta had just wanted to see Konrad so badly but had lacked the courage to go alone. She hoped Natalie was okay. Natalie was an up-timer, after all. But, Natalie was smart, though, and tough, Henrietta reminded herself.

Henrietta knew she would never see Konrad again. Fresh tears stung her eyes as she remembered the night he had gone on and on about kissing her. She cursed herself for not doing it then while she had the chance. Now, she never would. All the moments they could have shared had been stolen from them and by what? Bad luck? The devil? Was she being punished by God for being a part of the Monster Society? She knew very well how the church felt about the Society even if it hadn’t taken any action against them . . . yet.

In a fit of rage, she threw the sack containing her costume onto the ground. She left it there as she went and got a shovel. When she returned, she attacked the dirt with its blade like a demon-possessed maniac. Covered in sweat, her gray cloak smeared with dirt, and her white cap gone from her head, she stood staring at the hole she had dug.

The shovel slid from her grasp as she sunk to her knees. She reached out and pulled the sack containing her costume over to her. “Goodbye, Konrad,” she whispered as she stuffed the sack into the hole and then stood again. She buried her costume deep and her pain deeper as she finally, shovel in hand, headed for her house.

****

EMDprstThe funeral was a small one. As soon as it ended, Natalie made a dash to catch Henrietta before she left. Henrietta saw her coming but made no move to stop. Natalie wasn’t going to let her get away though. She outpaced Henrietta and put herself directly in the larger girl’s path.

“Henrietta . . .” Natalie started and then realized she didn’t really know what to say. “I just . . . I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want your pity, Natalie. Konrad is gone and nothing you can say will change that,” Henrietta told her.

“You don’t have to be alone Henrietta,” Natalie said.

“I’m not alone. I have my family. Now please get out of my way.”

“John and I miss you,” Natalie pleaded. “The Monster Society needs you.”

“The Monster Society died with Konrad, and you know it, Natalie. It’s time we all grew up and put those kind of games behind us,” Henrietta told her. “I’m going home, Natalie. I suggest you do the same and get out of my way before you force me into doing something we both will regret.”

Natalie looked into Henrietta’s eyes and saw that she meant what she said. Stepping aside, Natalie watched Henrietta leave, holding back her tears. If Henrietta wanted to be left alone, in truth, there was nothing she could do about it.

“We’ll be around if you change your mind!” Natalie called after her. “You’re a part of our family, too!”

Henrietta didn’t even look back at her. She just kept on walking until she disappeared into the trees and Natalie lost sight of her. Natalie clenched her hands at her sides, so tight that her knuckles went white and her nails dug into the flesh of her palms.

Natalie had to remind herself that however much she was hurting that Henrietta had to be hurting more. Henrietta had known Konrad a good deal longer than she had and they were both down-timers. On top of that, Natalie had watched how the two of them had seemed to be drawing closer to each other after the last movie night at her house. She had hoped that Henrietta and Konrad would find the same happiness she and John had without all the drama that came from John being John.

The dark clouds overhead opened up. A heavy rain began to fall in waves that splashed down over her.  Natalie felt John slip his trench coat over her shoulders without saying a word. She hadn’t seen him coming and wondered if he had seen what had happened between her and Henrietta.

She turned to stare into his eyes. All that was in them was pain.

“I’m sorry,” John said after a moment. “I should have told you. I should have told you both. I just didn’t want . . .”

“Ssshhh,” she pulled him into a hug, clinging to him.

John gently wormed his way out of her embrace. “I love you, Natalie,” he said. “But this isn’t over.”

“What?” Natalie asked, both confused and stunned by John’s statement. “What do you mean it’s not over?”

“You’ll see, love,” John tried to shoot her his trademark grin but it broke apart on his lips. “It can’t end like this.”

With that John darted away, disappearing through the rain into the woods.

“But it already has,” Natalie sobbed, standing alone with John’s trench coat on her shoulders and fresh tears mixing with the rain that ran over the curves of her cheeks.

****

NESS: Krystalnacht on the Schwarza Express

NESS Krystalnacht on the Schwarza Express banner

Tuesday, June 19, 1635

West Virginia County

Astrid Schäubin puttered around her room, straightening everything. She tugged at the solid but inexpensive table beside her bed, trying to square it up. It creaked across the wooden floorboards.

“Astrid, are you still up?” Her brother Hjalmar leaned around the corner of the doorway.

“Obviously.”

“Why? We have to be up early.”

Astrid sighed. “I do not know.” She looked at her pack. “I have everything ready. Pistol, gun belt, neckerchief, hat, four days of clothes even though we should return Friday morning.”

“Is everything okay with Georg?”

Astrid smiled. “Georg is fine. We had a nice dinner.”

“Uh-huh.”

Now she was a little annoyed. “Hjalmar, when have you ever known Georg Meisner not to be a perfect gentleman?”

Hjalmar’s head bobbled in acknowledgment of her point. “So what is it then? Lukas getting shot?”

“Well, ja, sure. This is my third Saxon Run since those bandits tried to hijack the train. And Krystalnacht.”

“That is not anywhere near here,” her brother pointed out.

“I know. But I have a bad feeling.”

Hjalmar frowned. “So do not take chances and do not wander off.”

Astrid threw her pillow at him. “I said I had a bad feeling, not that I had forgotten everything you and Neustatter ever taught me.”

Hjalmar handed back the pillow he’d caught. “Maybe you noticed something you have not figured out yet. Sleep on it.”

“Maybe. Thanks, Hjalmar.”

Hjalmar went back to his and Ditmar’s room. Astrid tucked her .22 under her pillow, doused the lamp, and went to bed.

****

 

Wednesday, June 20, 1635

Schwarza Junction

Astrid hadn’t slept particularly well. Nor had she been able to put her finger on what was bothering her about this mission. All her fellow NESS security consultants looked alert but comfortable.

“I am looking for Neustatter’s European Security Services!” a man in an SoTF blue uniform called out in Amideutsch. He had a cloth armband with the letters MP around his right sleeve.

“You found us,” Neustatter answered in the same language.

“Sergeant Johann Sandhagen, SoTF National Guard, military police.”

“Edgar Neustatter.” They shook hands. “Hjalmar Schaub here runs Team Two for me. Karl Recker, Otto Brenner, Jacob Bracht. Astrid Schäubin—she is Hjalmar’s sister—will be running Team Three. Me. Phillip Pfeffer. Wolfram Kuntz. Wolfram is our medic, certified EMT.”

Sandhagen shook hands all around. “Good to meet y’all. How many of these have you done? This is only my second one.”

“We are on a schedule with the other security contractors and mercenaries,” Neustatter told him. “Every seventh trip. This is NESS’s fourth Saxon Run and my third personally, not counting the attempted hijacking.”

Sandhagen nodded. “So y’all were on the train that was hit?”

Ja. Astrid, Wolfram, Phillip, Lukas Heidenfelder, and I,” Neustatter confirmed. “Lukas is still in the hospital.”

“How is he?”

“He will pull through,” Neustatter said.

Astrid knew that was what the doctors said, but she was still worried.

“Good.”

Neustatter nodded his appreciation. “How do you want do this? A team in each railroad car?”

Ja, that is good. How did you train for this? You have done more of these than I have.”

“I watched Murder on the Orient Express last night.”

The MP looked shocked.

“Relax. I have also seen Breakheart Pass.”

****

Astrid listened to the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails while she watched the left side as the train rolled north to Jena. The cars were about half-full, which she understood to be average for recent weekday runs—although that was still down a bit compared to before last month’s attack. So far the ride was uneventful. Which is not surprising, Astrid reminded herself. It’s always uneventful south of Jena.

But as the train slowed to a stop alongside the platform in Jena, Phillip called out from the back stairs, “Neustatter! Squad of men approaching the platform!”

Astrid quickly reached for her pistol. Neustatter’s was already out. But then her boss called out, “Their weapons are shouldered. And they have tickets.”

The approaching men sorted themselves into a file, and the first one swung aboard. He caught sight of Neustatter’s pistol right away. Astrid saw his hand tighten on his rifle sling, but he had the presence of mind not to make a sudden move.

“Who are you?”

“Neustatter’s European Security Services. Train guard on this run. And you?”

“The Yellow Circle Regiment.” Astrid noted that emblem on his coat.

“In civilian clothes?”

“We are specially trained to operate behind the lines.”

Astrid had to strain to hear Neustatter’s response, even from three feet away.

“No, you are not. Who are you?”

Equally quietly, the man replied, “CoCs. We are returning to Magdeburg.”

“Yellow Circle because you are defending the Jews.”

Ja, preemptive attack.”

“What I said. Like Esther, ja?”

The CoC soldier cracked a smile. “We have ten rifles. Let us work together.”

Neustatter nodded and called forward. “Sergeant? Five in each car? I will show you where the Saxons tried to hijack the train when we get there.”

****

When the train pulled into Naumburg Station, most of the passengers disembarked. Some made a beeline for the restrooms, others for the food cart.

Neustatter indicated the food cart. “Sergeant Sandhagen, you should come with us. Good food, good information.”

NESSKotSEkshrWhen they got to the front of the line, Neustatter said, “Nine of the kosher sausages on buns, Herr Kraft.”

“Good to see you again, Neustatter. The Saxon cities east of the river caused some trouble earlier this week, but all is quiet today.” Kraft used some English idioms and word order, but retained der, die, and das and inflected the German nouns if not the occasional English one. He nodded toward a pair of men with green armbands. “We Saale Levies have two of the oversized squads we call heaps near Weissenfels, with a radio. They checked in this morning, as did Camps Terror and Destruction.”

“Good enough for me,” Neustatter declared.

Sergeant Sandhagen raised an eyebrow, as if to say, “This is an extremely well-informed sausage dealer.”

Astrid indicated the jars of pickles and relishes along the side of the food cart. “I have seen these in Grantville.”

Kraft smiled. “We hope to have more varieties after this year’s harvest. Safe run.”

“All aboard!”

****

The train picked up speed out of the station and clattered across the Unstrut River bridge. The engineer gave a long blast on the horn as they passed Camp Terror. Astrid saw SoTF National Guardsmen on the corner watchtowers waving. She watched the ridgeline to the left carefully as the train negotiated the S-curve and headed north toward Eulau and the site of the attempted hijacking.

“Neustatter, it looks like the Saale Levies have almost finished that watchtower on the ridge, but the second floor is crooked.”

Neustatter crossed to her side of the train and studied it. He whistled. “It is turned forty-five-degrees from the walls of the first story to remove all the blind spots.”

The train sped past the site of the ambush and continued north with a steady clickety-clack. A couple passengers boarded at Weissenfels, and the train rumbled on toward Merseburg.

Neustatter crossed to Astrid’s side of the train again. “We are approaching Camp Destruction. Tell me what you see.”

The engineer honked the horn again, and the soldiers in the watchtowers waved. The steady clickety-clack on the rails continued as the train continued on toward Merseburg.

“They are alert,” Astrid observed, keeping her voice down as Neustatter had. “Those two new buildings look almost finished.”

“I have never seen anyone at work on them. Nor have Hjalmar nor Ditmar.”

“Yet progress is steady.”

“Makes you wonder who does the work, and when, does it not?” Neustatter asked.

Astrid mulled that over until Merseburg came into sight. No one sees the work being done. So they stop work when trains go by, and get out of sight. No reason for von Hessler’s Saale Levies to do that. No reason for the SoTF National Guard—Oh!

“I figured it out, Neustatter.”

Neustatter nodded. Astrid figured half of that was approval for keeping her mouth shut about who it was.

The Weissenfels passengers disembarked at Merseburg, a couple other passengers boarded, and the train rumbled on toward Halle.

One of the CoC men came over. “I heard your men call this the Saxon Run,” he said. “Does that mean you get off in Halle?”

Nein,” Neustatter told him. “Trouble is less likely beyond Halle, but a determined opponent could still cause some. We ride all the way to Magdeburg.”

“As do we,” the CoC man said.

“I thought the CoCs were generally moving outward from Magdeburg,” Neustatter observed.

“We finished our assignment. They want us back in Magdeburg. We were not in time to make it to Güstrow, but if anything else like that happens . . .”

Astrid managed not to cringe at the matter-of-fact way he said it. Krystalnacht had started a couple weeks ago. The Committees of Correspondence attacked anti-Semites and witch hunters—the sort of people responsible for the deaths of Mayor Dreeson, Enoch Wiley, Buster Beasley, and far too many police officers in Grantville. In Mecklenburg Province, the nobles had attacked the CoCs—but then CoC reinforcements shattered the nobles’ army at the Battle of Güstrow.

A couple passengers boarded at Schkopau, and a few minutes later, the train pulled into the station at Halle. Most of the passengers disembarked; there was a half-hour stopover, and Halle’s station had restrooms.

“You and Wolfram first,” Neustatter told Astrid.

Wolfram was already back at the train when she returned—the line for the women’s restroom had been a bit slower.

“Miss Schäubin, you are in charge.” Neustatter informed her. “Hjalmar and I will see if Sergeant Hudson is on duty.”

“Understood, boss,” she replied.

A few minutes later, she saw Neustatter, Hjalmar, and two CoC men come out of the railroad station. Makes sense. They must want news, too.

“All aboard!”

The clickety-clack of the wheels increased as the train picked up speed.

****

The train pulled into Magdeburg Central at dusk.

“That was uneventful,” Sergeant Sandhagen remarked.

“That is how we like them,” Neustatter agreed.

“We need to report in. Good working with you,” the CoC leader said. “You might have a drink at Green Horse Tavern and see if Frau Linder is singing. She is an up-timer, very popular with the Committees.”

Neustatter nodded his thanks.

“Safe journey.”

Neustatter nodded. “To you, as well.” He watched as the CoC men set out toward the walled part of the city.

“You are concerned,” Astrid observed. “Krystalnacht?”

“I do not doubt that the anti-Semites and witch hunters had it coming. But such a large operation depends heavily on its small unit commanders . . . It is very easy for something to go wrong. People make mistakes, after all.” He sighed. “Shall we go find this Green Horse Tavern?”

Green Horse Tavern was crowded, but the NESS teams found a table in the back. They spent the next couple hours listening to Marla Linder and her fellow musicians play what they called Irish music.

When Marla finished singing “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” Neustatter turned to Astrid. “It sounds like the Irish had a hard time of it in the up-time but persevered. I should have a researcher look into whether there is anything we can adopt for NESS.”

Astrid shook her head. “If so, you will find at least one John Wayne movie about it.”

****

Thursday, June 21, 1635

Magdeburg

The NESS teams slept late. It was mid-day before they all assembled and wandered about Magdeburg in search of food.

Astrid found herself checking her surroundings frequently.

“Nervous?” Hjalmar asked.

“The city feels different.”

“You are correct,” Neustatter said. “But tell me how you know. What do you see?”

Astrid watched people for a few minutes. “Many are glancing around. Some are hurrying with their heads down.”

“Exactly.”

A few minutes later, Hjalmar asked, “Are we going back to Green Horse Tavern, Neustatter? We have passed at least three places where we could eat.”

“You may eat anywhere you wish. I am going to Syborg’s Book Store,” Neustatter said. “There’s an inn with good food a couple blocks north of it.”

Hjalmar rolled his eyes.

Astrid just smiled. She wanted to see the inside of this bookstore. She’d heard about it from the men often enough.

Half an hour later, she was still smiling in amusement as Neustatter and Herr Syborg carried on an animated discussion of westerns in Amideutsch. Syborg had sent his son and the sales clerk off to lunch a while ago.

“You must see the latest from Haas and Seitz,” Matthias Syborg urged him. “The characters are masterfully done.”

“I agree Haas and Seitz write great characters,” Neustatter acknowledged, “but I do not think they get the geography right. The American West didn’t have villages every couple miles. Not in the up-time movies, anyway.”

Naturally that led into a discussion of those movies. Astrid half-listened to Syborg’s quick, chopped-off Amideutsch and Neustatter’s adopted drawl as she wandered around the bookstore. She felt crowded as she maneuvered around three other patrons. The whole shop would easily fit inside the Calvert High School library, so why did it seem to have so many books? Train your power of observation. The voice in her head sounded just like Neustatter. So she followed orders.

One shelf in each stack had a book open, propped up on a little wooden lectern, with a stack of the new magazines to either side. That meant fewer books per shelf, and it also meant the shelves had to be spaced further apart than at Calvert High, so there were fewer shelves per stack. And the bottom two shelves had literal stacks of books. She bent down to check. Yes, they were more copies of the titles on the upper shelves. Astrid looked around and realized that the bookstore had no back room. The bottom two shelves were inventory storage. That meant nobody had to get down on the floor to read book titles. She counted the books on one shelf, the number of shelves in a stack, and the number of stacks in the store. No, there were not nearly as many books as it seemed.

Neustatter and the proprietor were still talking, so Astrid kept browsing. A lot of the non-fiction was reprints of up-time books, mostly technical subjects and histories. But some were newly written by down-timers. Most had Dewey numbers printed right on the spine.

The fiction was grouped by genre. Astrid skipped the romance. She’d get recommendations. That would save her no end of frustration trying to figure out whether a given book was the up-time “in love” style, the down-time family alliance style, or a mix of clashing expectations. She’d read one of those that was quite good and a few that were bad enough that she’d moved along to mysteries. She liked those where she had a reasonable chance of figuring out the culprit.

Astrid looked up when she heard the door open. A young woman maneuvered a teenage boy into the bookstore, then quickly pulled the door closed behind her. Astrid kept a book in front of her as if she were fascinated by how the dowager freifrau was narrowing down who could have killed the church sexton. But really she was assessing the new arrivals. The young woman looked like she was in her mid-twenties, about her own age. She was expensively dressed and carried herself confidently. More confidently than I would expect of a burgher’s daughter. Probably of the adel. But she looks worried. The teenaged boy wore similarly fine clothes, a sword, and a stubborn expression.

“Welcome,” Syborg said. “May I help you find a book?”

Nein,” the boy said.

Ja, bitte,” the woman said at the same time.

“What kind of book are you looking for?”

Astrid watched her falter for a couple seconds and realized the woman hadn’t really come in for a book. But she recovered quickly and said, “An adventure.” With a nod toward the young man, even.

“What sort of adventure?” the proprietor asked. “Foreign lands? Science fiction?”

“Science fiction?” The woman pronounced it carefully. “What is that?”

“A genre popularized by the up-timers. The stories feature much technology, often in space.”

“That is boring.” Whether it was the dismissive tone or the casual flip of his hand, Astrid was suddenly seized by an urge to smack him a new attitude.

“What about a Western, then?”

“What is that?” The boy’s lip curled dismissively.

“They are set in North America, in the up-time.”

“Pfffffffttt. Stupid stories.”

“Do you even know what you are calling stupid?” Neustatter rumbled. He stepped up in front of the boy. “I study westerns carefully, the real thing and the stories. They help me understand the up-timers, and because of it my men and I make a better living as security consultants.”

“Ha! You are nothing but a mercenary! I am an imperial knight! Stand aside, or—”

“Or what?” Neustatter interrupted.

Astrid tossed the book on a random shelf, took three quick steps, and yanked the woman aside.

NESSKotSEm1At the same time, the young man’s hand flashed to his sword. It was halfway out when Neustatter staggered him with a quick left jab to the chin. To his credit, he actually managed to finish drawing the sword while flailing wildly to recover his balance—and found himself staring down the barrel of the M1911 .45 that had streaked out of Neustatter’s holster.

“I think you need to study the Westerns, too.” Neustatter’s voice was calm. “You are good. If you can control your noble temper, you will be better.” Without turning his head, he asked, “Herr Syborg, do you have the novelization of Rio Bravo?”

The proprietor swallowed. “Ja, ja, I think so. Right over there.”

Astrid was closest. She passed a copy to Neustatter.

“Add it to my bill, bitte,” Neustatter told him. He handed the book to the young man. “For you.”

The woman—by now Astrid was assuming she was his older sister—curtseyed, thanked them graciously, and swept the boy out of the shop.

Neustatter grinned as he holstered his pistol. “I don’t know as I’ve seen someone elegantly hustle before.”

“Neustatter—” Astrid began.

Neustatter shrugged with both hands palm up. “He drew on me. And he got out of it with a punch in the mouth and a book. I think it went okay.”

Matthias Syborg burst into laughter and clapped Neustatter on the shoulder.

****

After she and Neustatter eventually got some lunch, Astrid wandered around Magdeburg with the others for a bit. Then they returned to their rooms, and Astrid lay down for a nap. She wanted to be as well-rested as possible before she stayed up all night on the train. Around five, the NESS agents assembled for dinner in the inn’s main room before making their way to the train station. Sergeant Sandhagen was already there.

“How were the barracks?” Neustatter asked.

“Tense. New prime minister, Krystalnacht, upcoming war. Wars, maybe.”

“We noticed the same thing,” Neustatter stated. “What do we know about tonight’s train?”

“It is the regular overnight express to Schwarza Junction. Semi-express, actually, with stops at Halle, Naumburg Station, and Jena. Steam engine and three passenger cars.”

“Three?” Neustatter asked quickly.

“Two sleepers and a regular car. They added the third a couple hours ago. A lot of people want to go to Grantville.”

“It is a safe place.”

“Exactly. Three men to each car. I will be in the middle one.”

As far as Astrid could tell, Neustatter didn’t even hesitate. “Hjalmar, your team has the first car, but I need Karl in the second one.”

Astrid’s brother nodded. “You want me up front with the rifle and Jakob watching my back. Otto in the rear.”

“Exactly. Karl, you are the rifleman in the second car. Sergeant Sandhagen is in charge. Phillip, you will be in the back of that car. I will be in the front of the third car. Wolfram, you have a rifle. Astrid, watch his back.”

One rifle in each car, Astrid noted. We will be stretched thin . . .

“I know we will be thin.” Neustatter seemed to read her thoughts. “Stay alert. And do not get comfortable on the stairs. The sleeping compartments block line of sight, so make sure you are up in the aisle frequently. Open the doors between cars if you need to pass a message.”

The NESS agents fanned out to their respective cars. Neustatter took his station at the front of the third car. Astrid started to follow Wolfram to the back, but Neustatter signaled her to wait.

“Miss Schäubin, please look into purchasing more long arms. I want at least one more with your team, two if we can. And one more with Hjalmar’s team.”

“I will see if NESS can afford what is available,” Astrid agreed. “Maybe SRGs.”

“What I would really like is a Winchester.”

“I think only the Hibernian Battalion can afford those.”

The train soon began filling up. Astrid noted some of those boarding were checking large amounts of baggage. When they boarded, she could see they were richly dressed. Adel or at least well-to-do, she thought. Are they that afraid? The Crown Loyalists won the election, and Krystalnacht has done very little in Magdeburg itself. No real reason to flee.

She noted that in some cases, servants were preparing compartments for nobles or burghers in the first two cars and then coming back to the third car themselves. To sleep sitting up. And they won’t be able to go help their masters while the train is moving. Smarter to buy the servants tickets for a second compartment.

“All aboard!”

Astrid checked her side of the train. “Two more!” she called out. “Running!”

She had just realized that the first figure was a woman, running in full skirts when she caught sight of a whole group of figures.

“Neustatter! Pursuit! No polizei in sight!”

She heard Neustatter throw open the door to the next car as the train’s brakes released. The figure was within twenty yards now, and— It was the woman and the boy from Syborg’s Book Store!

Astrid stood on the bottom step with one hand outstretched and the other firmly around the hand rail. The woman caught her hand as the train began to move. She hurried up the stairs. The boy ignored Astrid’s hand. She grabbed him instead and hauled him aboard.

The sound of boots on the stairs behind her told her one of the pursuers had made it aboard. She turned to see two more pursuers leap aboard and quickly backed up the aisle. Everything was happening at once: the woman was pulling her brother up the aisle, passengers were turning around, one woman screamed, and the fourth and fifth pursuers were rapidly outpaced by the train. But most of Astrid’s attention was on the first one. He was reaching for a weapon. Threats. Her pistol was out and rising, left hand coming up to meet it . . .

“Freeze!” Neustatter barked.

The man froze mid-draw, so Astrid froze in a two-handed stance. She saw that Wolfram, on the back left steps, had his rifle leveled at the other two, both of whom had rifles. Neustatter’s voice had come from the front right, so he’d have a line of fire over the heads of the seated passengers.

The second pursuer spoke in the clipped Amideutsch of Magdeburg.

“We arrest them in the name of the Committees of Correspondence.”

Astrid stared in shock. But Neustatter just snorted. “I did not realize the Committees have police powers.”

“It is best you step out of our way.”

Nein, it is best you explain yourselves. Now.” Neustatter delivered the last word with a certain menace.

“If you interfere, we will report it to Gunther Achterhof.”

That’s definitely a threat, Astrid realized.

“Do not make me explain to Gunther why I had to put three of his men in the ground,” Neustatter responded.

So is that.

The first man’s hand tightened on whatever he had half-drawn.

“Uh-huh,” Astrid told him. “Let go of it. Or I will shoot you.” Clients—the train and passengers.

The second man held his left hand up. “Put it away, Gebhard.” He faced Neustatter. “Your guns are going to get heavy.”

Astrid took a couple steps backwards toward the front the car. She remembered two women seated together on the left side.

Frauen, slide over, bitte,” she requested without turning her head. She knelt on the seat, resting her pistol on the back of the seat. “I can stay here a really long time. So explain yourselves.”

The second pursuer glanced upward and sighed. “Fine,” he snapped. “These are the children of Heinrich von Kardorff. He was a ritter in Westphalia.”

“We got him,” the first man said.

“They killed Father,” the boy said. His hand slid toward his sword.

“Don’t move,” Neustatter growled. “I’m Neustatter. My teams are train guards on this run. Kid, I assume you are now Ritter von Kardorff.”

“I am.”

“And I assume this is Frau von Kardorff, your sister.”

“Half-sister.”

“Ah, so you are mad at her, too,” Neustatter observed. “Westphalia. That explains your very proper Plattdeutsch. And over there we have Gebhard in front, the CoC team leader—what is your name?”

“Klaus Eggers. And that is Hans behind me.”

“What are you waiting for?” a man seated on the right side next to a window demanded. “Shoot them!”

“For being CoCs? That would be right unneighborly,” Neustatter drawled.

“Take care, old man!” Gebhard threatened. “You could be next.”

A man on the right side of the train stood up. “There are more of us than there are of you,” he said in Hochdeutsch.

“Sit down,” Neustatter told him.

“I will not be spoken—”

“I will speak to you any way I choose,” Neustatter told him.

Astrid couldn’t see him; he was toward the front of the car, and she was halfway back, facing the rear. She wasn’t about to look away from where she aimed her pistol.

“I am not going to listen to a peasant.”

“That is mighty big talk from a burgher in front of so many neideradel,” Neustatter observed. “They think the same of you as you think of peasants.”

Klaus laughed harshly. “The adel took their privileges under a supposed agreement to protect everyone else. But here is a burgher standing up to you while the adel remains seated.”

“But as the Constitution says, we are all citizens here,” Neustatter countered. “I know the Committees believe that. So tell me about von Kardorff and his children.”

Gebhard spat on the floor. “Von Kardorff was the worst kind of scum. Oppressing his villagers. Crooked deals, cheating on contracts, taking advantage of the young women . . .”

“But that is not why we killed him,” Klaus interrupted. “Only two things put someone on the target lists: anti-Semitism and witch hunting. Von Kardorff was guilty of both.”

“Go on.”

“He was typical of the adel, living above his means, taking advantage of the labor of the villagers,” Klaus growled. “But even that was not enough money. He borrowed heavily from Jews, then made false accusations against them when they tried to collect.”

“Give me money or I will arrange an accident—a legal one,” Neustatter summarized.

Ja, you understand.” Klaus was really getting warmed up now. “He used accusations of witchcraft the same way. That is how he took advantage of the young women in the village. Sleep with him or be accused of witchcraft. Or mother or grandmother accused of witchcraft. He had four Jews and three women killed. That we know of.”

Ritter von Kardorff, Miss von Kardorff, do you have anything to say?” Neustatter asked.

“What is ‘Miss‘?” the woman demanded. “I wish to know if I am being insulted.”

“You should be more worried about being killed,” Gebhard stated.

“Shut up,” Astrid told him. “Frau von Kardorff, ‘miss’ is how up-timers address unmarried women. Neustatter calls me miss whenever I call him herr.”

Frau von Kardorff laughed once. “He is no herr. Even the burgher saw he is nothing but a . . .”

“Citizen.” Astrid spoke loudly since she still wasn’t going to turn her head to address Frau von Kardorff.

“Bah!” Frau von Kardorff burst out. “What good is being a citizen when the city watch stood aside for the CoC? Is ‘citizen’ limited to them?”

“Normally there’s no reason for the polizei to stop the CoCs,” Astrid stated, still not facing her.  “Again, we are all citizens. Which part of that do you not understand?”

“How dare you turn your back to me!”

“Frau von Kardorff!” Neustatter snapped. “Step back. If you strike Miss Schäubin, I will shoot you myself.”

“You will have to shoot me first!” the young ritter declared.

Ja, I would,” Neustatter said. “Since my team are the ones keeping the CoC from killing you and your sister, maybe she should not be raising her hand against us.”

For a few seconds, Astrid heard nothing but the clickety-clack of the train on the tracks. Then Neustatter said, “Sehr gut.” Evidently Miss von Kardorff had enough self-control to stand down.

“Now, Miss von Kardorff, do you have anything to say about the CoCs’ charges?”

Astrid heard nothing for several seconds. She is either furious or ashamed.

“Our father was not a pleasant man,” she finally said.

Hearing her very controlled tone, Astrid realized it was shame.

“I cannot speak to the particulars,” Miss von Kardorff stated, “beyond hearing him complain about the Jews.”

“An anti-Semite then,” Gebhard stated. “So let us shoot them.”

“Suppose first you explain how Ritter von Kardorff’s children are involved?” Neustatter requested.

“They are his children!” Gebhard blurted out.

Ja, I just said that. But how are they involved?”

“If we do not kill them, they will rule over the village. The same things will keep happening.”

Nein, they will not,” the boy stated.

“We are not going to take that chance,” Gebhard countered.

Astrid heard a train car door squeak open. She realized it was the door to the next car ahead. Someone had made the somewhat dangerous crossing between cars while the train was underway. Then she heard Karl’s voice.

“Where do you want me, Neustatter?”

“Middle of the aisle,” came Neustatter’s voice. Once Karl was evidently in position, Neustatter called, “Wolfram, order arms!”

“Clever,” Eggers allowed. “Hans, you cover the one at our backs while I cover the new one. And be alert when the train pulls into Halle. He will have more men in the first two cars.”

After the discussion continued for a while, Neustatter signaled Wolfram. His rifle came back up, and Karl crossed back to the second car. Klaus and Hans took the opportunity to rest their rifles, one at a time.

Astrid’s legs were starting to cramp by the time she heard Karl return.

“We are five minutes from Halle,” he announced. “Sergeant Sandhagen is aware of what is happening back here.”

Eggers turned his head and told Hans something, speaking too quietly for her to hear.

“The train will stop at Halle just long enough for passengers to disembark and board,” Neustatter reminded them all. “You will not have time to bring the local CoC to the station.”

“You will not have time to summon reinforcements, either,” Eggers countered.

“True,” Neustatter allowed.

Half-true, Astrid thought. She had already figured out why Karl had been gone so long. Of course, the CoC men didn’t know that Karl had been assigned to the front of the second car, not to the back . . .

“Since we seem to have a stalemate, I suggest we all find more comfortable seating arrangements,” Neustatter suggested. “If we ask all the passengers to move to the right side, Ritter and Miss von Kardorff can sit in the front on the left. You men can sit in the back, and Miss Schäubin and I will sit in the middle.”

Astrid listened to the clickety-clack of the train as Eggers thought that over for a full minute. “Okay, but we will take the front and put the reactionaries in the back.”

“Makes no difference to me,” Neustatter stated.

But it does, Astrid thought. Now they will be the ones facing backwards in their seats.

Und we will lock the door to the next car,” Eggers added.

Ah, so he saw that part.

“Fine. I will keep Wolfram on the back stairs. Got to have a rear guard. Which side do you want him on?”

Clever, Neustatter. Clever. Astrid wasn’t sure if there even was a right answer.

“Left,” Eggers said after another minute. “Most of the stations are on the left.”

“What about us?” the burgher who had stood up earlier asked.

“I regret that our conversation will probably keep most of you awake,” Neustatter answered. “But at least you will be out of the line of fire.”

****

 

Friday, June 22, 1635

Halle

It was after midnight when the southbound Schwarza Express was shunted off onto the second line and rolled into Halle Station. At the same time, the northbound Magdeburg Express pulled away from the station on the main line.

“Halle Station! Anyone disembarking?”

“You could all leave the train here,” the burgher suggested.

“Train guards,” Neustatter said. “We cannot leave.”

“I am not getting off the train,” Miss von Kardorff declared.

“Then we stay, too,” Eggers said.

Several passengers left the third car, including the vocal burgher. Two or three people looked like they intended to board but were quickly pulled aside by those leaving the train. Only one man boarded. He found a seat in the back. Neustatter just shook his head.

“I see no reason to involve the stationmaster,” Neustatter said. “If all the rest of you would please move to the right side of the car? And Wolfram, if you would step down and let the Committeemen pass?”

“Hans, you first,” Klaus directed. “And the reactionaries move down the aisle to the back.”

Hans left by the rear door and reentered at the front of the car. Klaus followed, and finally Gebhard, so that at least one of them was always in a position to cover the von Kardorffs.

“You suckered me!” Neustatter declared when he saw that Gebhard had finally been able to draw his pistol while outside the train.

Ja, I did,” Eggers acknowledged. He locked the door to the next car as the conductor’s cry of “All aboard!” rang out from somewhere forward. Just as he sat down looking fairly satisfied, Sergeant Johann Sandhagen came up the car’s front steps. He held a lantern in each hand.

“I am not armed. But once we cross into Thuringia-Franconia, you are my problem. So I ought to be back here.”

“There is a soldier on the train!” It was the first thing Astrid had heard CoC Hans say.

Ja,” Neustatter answered. “One military police liaison per train. Surely you knew this?”

Surely they did not, Astrid realized as the train started to move.

Sandhagen replaced the lantern hanging at the front of the car, slipped past the CoC men to replace the lantern in the back, and then found an empty seat in the middle on the left side. Neustatter dropped into the seat ahead of him and moved all the way across to the window, his pistol still up, momentarily in a one-handed grip. Astrid took the one behind the sergeant, grateful to finally be sitting down properly. She sat next to the aisle, gun hand casually resting on the back of Sandhagen’s seat.

She heard Wolfram tell the von Kardorffs, “Your turn to sit down. Two seats up from the back, bitte. I have recent experience with hand-to-hand fighting on a train, and I must insist on an empty seat between us.”

Dank schön, Wolfram. Just what I need to be thinking about—Lucas getting shot in the ambush last month. Especially when we roll right past the spot, in the dark, with a swordsman behind me . . . Oh! Astrid realized something.

“Did you speak with the stationmaster, sergeant?” Klaus Eggers demanded.

Nein. If I wanted to force an end to this, I would have had him hold the train while I summoned help from the camp outside the town. But I did not.”

Astrid saw an expression cross Egger’s face. Evidently Neustatter did, too.

“You boys are not AWOL, are you? Those are SRGs.” Neustatter’s voice was casual. He held up his left hand when Hans started. “Not my watch. I got out of soldiering. Mostly.”

“So we are back to Ritter von Kardorff’s children,” Klaus Eggers stated. He was speaking even more quickly.

Trying to lead us away from that comment about being AWOL, Astrid figured.

“We cannot let them live,” Gebhard said.

“Why?” Neustatter asked. “Are they anti-Semites? Or witch hunters?”

“Probably.”

“Probably is not good enough. Everyone has heard of the Committees of Correspondence lists. Either they are on the list, or they are not. Show us,” Neustatter challenged.

Again there was a pause in the conversation, with the clickety-clack of the train the only noise.

One of the passengers finally broke the silence. “Obviously they are not on your list. Sergeant, I insist these men be arrested at the next stop! And these incompetent guards replaced!”

Mein Herr, so far these guards have kept anyone from getting hurt,” Sandhagen pointed out.

“If you will not, I will! I know men in the new prime minister’s government!”

Klaus Eggers shifted to cover the man with his rifle. “You are neideradel!”

“Sure sounds like it,” Neustatter agreed. “Astrid, you have a better angle on him. Wolfram, you cover the von Kardorffs. I have Gebhard and Silent Hans.”

“Neustatter,” Eggers warned.

“What? I have one gun on you and your men instead of two. Stop complaining.”

“If you have contacts in Prime Minister Wettin’s government . . .” Miss von Kardorff began.

Klaus Eggers interrupted her. “That will mean nothing in the SoTF.”

“Are you of the adel?” the boy demanded. “And you have been sitting here silent the entire time?”

“He does not want to get involved,” Klaus told him. “You are not worth it to him. That is how the adel is.”

“You would let them take us?” The boy’s voice rose.

“Of course he would! He is a coward like the rest of them!”

The newly-discovered noble reached for something.

“Freeze!” Neustatter barked. “Either drop that in the aisle or very slowly come over here and sit down next to Sergeant Sandhagen.”

“I will not!”

“Wolfram, cover the CoCs.” Neustatter lunged across the aisle and pistol-whipped the noble. With his left hand he stripped the dirk out of the noble’s hand while his right—pistol still in hand—snaked under the man’s arm and around the back of his neck. Neustatter hauled the man out into the aisle by brute force and deposited him next to Sandhagen.

“Astrid, shoot him in the back of the head if he tries anything. Wolfram, you have the von Kardorffs.”

“Impressive,” Eggers allowed.

“The rest of us all seem willing to talk,” Neustatter noted.

“I will . . . I will . . . You will hang for this!” The noble started to lunge to his feet, but Sergeant Sandhagen grabbed him by the bicep and shoulder and drove him back into the seat.

“Let us kill him, too,” Gebhard proposed.

He is driven, almost unhinged, Astrid thought. Why?

“Astrid?” Neustatter asked.

Ja, boss?”

“We are in Saxon County now, are we not? If someone was killed on a train, who do you think would get to the murderer first, Colonel von Hessler or the Saxon Ghost?”

Astrid thought about it. “I say von Hessler.”

“Why?”

“He has the Levies spread out along the river. Which means they are right along the railroad, too. He would hear anything very quickly.”

“The Ghost finds out everything in Saxon County,” Neustatter countered.

Klaus gave them a very skeptical look.

Astrid rushed her next question a bit. “What do you think would happen?”

Von Hessler would probably just shoot them,” Neustatter said. “The Ghost? Who knows? I heard he hanged Saxon officers last year.”

“He is not real,” Eggers stated.

“Sure he is. We met him last month—and the troop of dragoons that rides with him. Miss Schäubin? Five bucks on the Saxon Ghost.”

“Five bucks on Colonel von Hessler,” Astrid agreed.

“Neustatter.”

“What is it, Wolfram?”

“I saw a light when the train came around the bend. We are coming up on Schkopau.”

Dank dir,” Sergeant Sandhagen said. “This is the Saxon Run. Von Hessler and the Saxon Ghost are not the only ones out there. The SoTF thinks members of the Saxon adel were behind the attack on the train last month. So I need you to point your guns away from each other and cover the doors.”

“The sergeant is correct,” Neustatter stated. He got up and moved backward down the aisle, pistol pointed straight up. “Wolfram, keep the left. I have the right. Ritter von Kardorff, I am going to trust you to not draw your sword. Eggers, one of you can watch the nobles, but the other two need to cover the forward doors.”

“This is a trick!” Gebhard exclaimed.

“No trick,” Neustatter said. “We need to be on the alert all the way to Camburg.”

“I will watch the reactionaries,” Gebhard declared.

“Fine.”

“If it is a trick, Neustatter, you would be the decoy.” Klaus spoke slowly. “So I will watch the door on the right.”

“Fine.” Neustatter said it like he didn’t care.

He probably doesn’t, Astrid thought. Oh, yes.Herr von Adel, remember I am right behind you,” she said aloud.

Facing outward toward a possible external threat put a damper on conversation as the Schwarza Express passed Merseburg, Camp Devastation, and Weissenfels. Sergeant Sandhagen got up and shuttered the lanterns.

After a few minutes, Astrid’s night vision came back. “Coming up on Eulau,” she observed. “Just beyond is where the train got attacked last month. Watch the ridgeline.”

“I see a torch!” Klaus called out.

“That is von Hessler’s watchtower,” Neustatter told him.

“What is next?” Klaus asked.

“Camp Terror. It will be on the right. Then we cross the bridge over the Unstrut and stop at Naumburg Station.”

“What is this camp?” Ritter von Kardorff asked.

“It was a railroad construction camp,” Astrid heard Neustatter tell him. “Then the USE regiments built it up when they marched through in ’33. Now it has a garrison of SoTF National Guard and Saale Levies.”

“And the name?”

“A joke made by a Saxon soldier, but the Levies kept it.”

Miss von Kardorff suddenly recoiled from the window. “There is nothing out there!”

Astrid had felt the clickety-clack of the train change. “We are on the bridge, up over the river.”

“This is unnatural,” the woman declared.

The sound changed again.

“We are back on land,” Astrid offered, still not turning her head. She heard Miss von Kardorff sigh in relief.

“I see lights,” Klaus announced.

“Naumburg Station.”

A few of the passengers stirred as the train coasted up to the platform. Astrid heard one quietly asking another, “Shall we find an inn here and finish the journey tomorrow, on a safe train?”

Nein. This is Saxon County. It is no safer for us than this train.”

Astrid was pretty sure he was wrong, but saw no reason to butt into their conversation.

The conductor came up the steps. “We are going to add a fourth car here,” he announced. “Once it is hooked up, I will ask all of you passengers to move to that car.” He leaned back out the door and waved.

The train was moving before anyone could protest. It rolled a little way from the station and stopped again.

“What is happening?” Gebhard demanded. “Neustatter, you planned this!”

“I have been right here with you, Gebhard. How would I have done it?”

Gebhard’s aim shifted from the von Kardorffs to Neustatter. “Who else could have?”

“That is a good question,” Klaus Eggers agreed. He turned away from the door. “How does this extra railroad car happen to be here?”

“It is for emergencies,” the conductor told him. “Camp Destruction was raided a year ago in the spring. There were no trains nearby to transport troops. Since then there is always an engine and an extra car either here or at Halle.”

As if to punctuate his words, another train rumbled. Then there was a heavy thud against the back of the car.

“They are hooking up the fourth car now.”

No kidding, Astrid thought.

“The engineer and I know what is going on back here,” the conductor informed them. “We are not stupid. You must work this out among yourselves, but we must move our passengers to safety.”

“That makes sense to me,” Sergeant Sandhagen declared.

Someone banged on the rear door. Neustatter unlocked and opened it.

A beefy man dressed in brown stood there. He had a green cloth tied around his upper right arm. “We are ready for your passengers,” he said.

“Who are you?” Klaus Eggers demanded.

Ich bin Peter Hofmann. I am a farmer in Kleinjena, a mile up the road. But I am in the Saale Levies, too.” He pointed at the green cloth around his arm and continued in the same almost-Hochdeutsch that wasn’t quite the same as the Grantville Amideutsch they’d heard from Heinz Kraft yesterday. “Colonel von Hessler ordered me to take five men and protect the train to Grantville, then come back in the morning. He said to stay out of whatever was going on, just keep the train safe from outside attack.”

“I do not believe you,” Gebhard stated.

“This is part . . . what do they call it? Krystalnacht, is it not? Not our problem,” Hofmann stated.

“Weak sisters,” Eggers snarled.

Hofmann matched him glare for glare. “There are no witch hunters in the Unstruttal. Since last fall, Jews live in our village—a minyan or something like that. I think it means ‘a whole bunch’ in Jewish. We do not mind if men from the Yellow Circle Regiment march through or ride the trains. More and more men and women work in shops and factories along the rivers. Most of them belong to unions. We are you.” He pointed right at Eggers. “War with Saxony is coming. Do not start anything right here on the border. Not unless you intend to stay and help finish it.”

Hofmann’s tirade silenced everyone.

“Guess I owe you five bucks, Miss Schäubin,” Neustatter spoke into the silence. “Well, Herr Eggers, I agree to Hofmann’s terms if you do.”

Astrid could practically see the man thinking.

“We are now behind schedule,” the conductor announced.

“We cannot have that.”

The conductor gave a firm nod. He’d evidently missed Eggers’ sarcasm. “Since it is all settled, I will move the passengers now.”

“Go ahead,” Eggers agreed.

The passengers quickly gathered up whatever they had brought with them and moved to the fourth car.

Gebhard pointed at the noble Astrid was still covering. “He stays.”

“Why?” Neustatter asked.

“Because he is one of them,” Gebhard stated.

“He was not going to help until you forced the issue. He appealed to Sergeant Sandhagen and was not going to defend the von Kardorffs. How does that set him against you?”

“He spoke against us!”

“I speak against you, too. Gebhard, you are a dummkopf. Free speech.”

Gebhard swore at Neustatter.

“And the horse you rode in on,” Neustatter returned.

“Silence!” Klaus Eggers ordered. “Get the noble out of here!”

“Your call,” Sergeant Sandhagen said. “Herr, this way.”

The noble shied away as he passed Neustatter.

“Now you come back here and sit down, Sergeant,” Eggers instructed. “I do not want you planning anything against us.”

“Fine.” Sandhagen looked at Hofmann. “Neustatter has another team in the first two cars. Try to work together if anything happens.”

Hofmann nodded. “Good luck.”

They shut and locked their respective doors as the train began to move.

As the clickety-clacks came closer and closer together, Gebhard said, “We cannot make an example of the reactionaries without witnesses.”

Neustatter glanced away from his door. “Do you seriously want to kidnap an audience?”

Eggers smacked Gebhard in the back of the head. “Nein.

“Next item. You need to convince me that the von Kardorffs are legitimate targets,” Neustatter stated.

“We told you. The father—”

“But they are not on your list, are they?” Neustatter’s tone was harsh. “What makes you think you can kill them?”

“We have to cut out the rot,” Gebhard answered. “Like father, like child.”

“You are just like them,” Astrid blurted out. “They know of one lazy villager, and treat us all like that. You know of one rapist and murderer and treat them all like that. But the Constitution forbids corruption of blood. I thought the Committees followed the Constitution.”

She had the satisfaction of watching Klaus’s mouth open and close a couple times. And Silent Hans flushed.

“They are . . . Not . . . On . . . Your . . . List,” Neustatter stated. “You are not allowed.”

“Do not presume to tell the Committees what we can and cannot do,” Eggers snapped. He turned away from his door as well. “We are past the camp and approaching Jena. That is the Committees’ territory. You have no one else you can call upon.”

“Do not be too sure,” Neustatter told him. “But since we are not in Jena yet, what do you have to say about Miss Schäubin’s point from the Constitution?”

“The anti-Semites and the witch hunters are not going to follow the Constitution, so neither are we,” Gebhard stated. Now weapons came up all around.

“Herr Eggers, that does not explain why you seek to kill people not on your list. Something else is going on here, and I want to know what,” Neustatter demanded. “Right now.”

Astrid noted that Eggers and Gebhard exchanged looks while Silent Hans looked uncomfortable. Gebhard finally spoke up.

“One of the women that von Kardorff had killed was the grandmother of a CoC member.”

“So this is private justice.”

“He is not on this mission. Someone has to see to it.”

“You are committed to this,” Neustatter observed. “Against orders. Why?”

“My grandfather was killed by the adel.”

“I see,” Neustatter said. “This CoC man whose grandmother von Kardorff killed—would he happen to be on the team going after the adel who killed your grandfather?”

Astrid saw Gebhard’s eyes widen and knew Neustatter had scored a hit.

“How do you know that?” Gebhard blurted out.

“Because Sergeant Hudson made me sit through Strangers on a Train,” Neustatter said.

Astrid couldn’t help it. She started laughing.

“You find this funny?” Eggers demanded.

“That Neustatter figured it out from an up-time movie?” she asked. “Ja, I do.”

“So why are you permitting it, Klaus?” Neustatter asked. “Do you approve? No, I see you do not.” He paused and thought. “Does he have something on you? No. You are not a man to blackmail. Honorable . . . He saved your life, did he not? During Krystalnacht? Or before?”

For the second time, Astrid saw the CoC men’s eyes widen in surprise.

“First week of Krystalnacht.” Eggers’ voice was gruff. “A man not on our list shot at me after I let him go.”

“Ah. So Gebhard’s belief that none of the adel can be trusted rings true. Dank schön, Herr Eggers. Now I understand.”

“We are going to take them off the train here in Jena,” Eggers stated as the train began to slow down. “Stand up!”

Astrid heard the young Ritter von Kardorff stand. Then she heard the hiss of a blade being drawn. Gebhard came down the aisle, pistol raised. She stepped in front of him.

“Gebhard!” Klaus warned.

“Stand aside!” a deep voice called out on the platform.  “CoC!”

Gebhard smiled menacingly.

Another voice shouted. “National Guard! Herr Engineer, keep that train moving!”

The train began to roll.

Klaus Eggers glared at Neustatter, his rifle coming up again. “You cheated!”

“I and most of my men are National Guard,” Neustatter told him. “That includes Miss Schäubin’s brother. So if you shoot her, Gebhard, I am going to let Hjalmar kill you. Personal vengeance cuts both ways.”

“Gebhard, step back,” Eggers directed.

Nein. It is time to end this.”

“Stop!” Von Kardorff tried to pass Astrid. She stepped in front of him. The boy half-sighed, half-growled in frustration. “Do you think I am so stupid that I would take vengeance on my village for your crimes?”

“Of course that is what they think,” his sister spat out. “They do not think of us as people. Not one of them knows anything about us except what lands we own!”

Eggers began to argue, but she spoke over him. “What are our names?” she demanded.

“Von Kardorff.”

“Our names. Not our lands.”

After an awkward silence, Neustatter said, “It is clear they do not know your names.”

“Nor do you.”

“That is true. I have been too busy saving your life.”

She sniffed.

“Neustatter,” Eggers said, “you do understand that we cannot let the boy rule over the village, do you not?”

“You could educate him instead of killing him,” Neustatter pointed out.

“Not much chance of that in a village.”

“Maybe the CoC should open a school.”

“I am not going to a school,” von Kardorff declared.

“Why not?” Astrid asked. “I take classes in Grantville. English, civics, finance.”

“The best education is in Grantville,” Neustatter agreed. “Herr Eggers, if you want him to rule the village well, those classes will be a good start.”

“I do not trust him or his sister. They will go back to the village.”

“Listen to you,” Miss von Kardorff interrupted. “The village. We are not of the hochadel. We own a village. We know everyone there.”

“And who does all the work administering it?” Gebhard asked.

“Herr Reimers oversaw most of it for Father,” von Kardorff stated.

“And will he oversee most of it for you?” Astrid asked.

“Of course.”

“Perfect,” Neustatter said. “You can attend school in Grantville and learn to rule well. Reimers can continue overseeing the village.”

“I told you we own a village,” Miss von Kardorff reminded everyone. “One small village. One hundred sixty-two tenants, only one hundred twenty-seven of them ours. We cannot afford to live in Grantville.”

Klaus Eggers laughed. “Get a job.”

“A job?” Astrid wished the young ritter hadn’t shouted from right behind her ear. He sounded outraged. “That is dishonorable.”

“So find an honorable one,” she told him.

“The only honorable occupation for a ritter is to be a soldier,” he stated.

“Or some other job where you carry a weapon,” Neustatter said slowly. “Kid, I got an idea. How about you come work for me while you are taking classes?”

Nein!” Gebhard shouted.

“Neustatter, you are wahnsinnig,” Eggers told him.

“Why not?” Neustatter asked. “How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

“You have kept your cool as well as anyone could expect from a sixteen-year-old,” Neustatter told him.

“I will not leave my brother alone,” Miss Kardorff stated. “What would you do with me?”

“Do you intend to help your brother govern the village?” Neustatter.

“Yes, of course—until I marry.”

“Then you should take classes, too.”

“Will you give me a job, too? Hand me a sword?” The questions were definitely sarcastic.

“Miss Schäubin?”

Astrid was still looking at Gebhard. She rolled her eyes, because she knew what was coming. “Ja, Neustatter?”

“You handle NESS’s finances and are a security consultant. Do you want to train her?”

“Sure, why not? But, Neustatter, you can forget about buying any Winchesters if you are going to add two more staff. Maybe not even SRGs.”

“The Committees must have some guarantees,” Eggers began.

Three more staff, Miss Schäubin,” Neustatter corrected.

“I am not working for you!” Gebhard declared.

“And I am not inclined to take you,” Neustatter agreed. “Besides, Gebhard, you are concerned about the villagers. Why not go there and help them? You promised your comrade you would make things right, did you not?”

Klaus Eggers laughed. “So why do you say three, Neustatter?” After the briefest of pauses, he said, “Nein! Not me!”

“Why not?” Neustatter asked. “The Committees seek assurances that Ritter von Kardorff will learn to govern well. Who else would the CoCs send? Gebhard made a promise about the village. Hans . . . you plan to return to your volunteer regiment before the war starts, do you not?”

Ja,” Hans confirmed. “I am going back. This had to be done, but our assignment is over, except for these two.”

“The Committees are strong in the cities and larger towns,” Neustatter pointed out. “Not so much in farming villages. Let Gebhard work with the village. Klaus, you can figure out what ritter and freiherren should learn from the up-timers. I could use another rifleman. You could use some contact with the Grantville Committee of Correspondence. You can keep an eye on von Kardorff here, and he can keep an eye on you.”

“I do not approve of this,” von Kardorff proclaimed.

“Nor do I,” Klaus Eggers concurred.

“So it is settled, then,” Neustatter stated.

“I think we need to discuss this further,” Eggers protested.

“It is dawn,” Neustatter stated. “We will arrive at Schwarza Junction in a few minutes. I think we need to have everything settled by then.”

“You will pay us enough to live in Grantville?” Miss von Kardorff asked.

NESSKotSEapt“In an apartment building,” Astrid clarified. “Not a schloss.” She described the apartment she shared with her brother and her cousin.

“You must let my brother call it his grand tour,” she demanded.

Klaus sighed. “Fine. What do I care?”

“Klaus?” Gebhard asked.

“I think we should do it, Gebhard,” Klaus told him.

“You are a CoC team leader.”

“Neustatter has outmaneuvered me since we jumped on this train,” Klaus admitted. “Perhaps I should learn from him. And you could help Johann’s family.”

Gebhard finally stepped back. “I want regular contact with the Committees,” he said. “And with you, to make sure they do what they say.” He pointed at the von Kardorffs.

“Okay.”

Hans spoke up again. “You. Wolfram. Let us order arms.”

Weapons were slung, holstered, and sheathed while the clickety-clack on the rails lessened. Secure the area, Astrid thought, happy to mentally check off Neustatter’s third principle, even if it had taken all night to accomplish.

As the Schwarza Express pulled into the station, Astrid saw four Mounted Constables waiting on the platform. As they all filed out of the third car, one of the constables stepped forward, hand on his holster. “What’s the problem?” he asked in Amideutsch.

“No problem, Officer,” Neustatter said. “Just train guards going to breakfast after the overnight.”

“That’s a big group of train guards,” the constable stated.

Neustatter pointed at Hjalmar, Jakob, and Phillip disembarking from the first two cars. “Team Two.” Hofmann and his Levies poured out of the fourth car. “Some reinforcements from Colonel von Hessler, up in West Saxony.” Neustatter’s gesture took in his own group. “Team Three—and my new hires.” He pointed at Hans. “One soldier on leave.” At Gebhard. “And a CoC village liaison.”

“So no trouble?”

“No trouble. From Magdeburg, with love, you might say.”

Astrid wasn’t sure if the constable believed Neustatter or not, but he made no effort to stop them when Neustatter asked, “Breakfast in Grantville? I’m buying.”

As the group moved off the platform, Otto Brenner inserted himself next to Neustatter.

“Everything okay, boss?” he asked.

Ja,” Neustatter told him. “Everything is fine.”

He is one of yours?” Eggers demanded. “He sat right there from Halle to Naumburg Station, and we never had him covered!”

Gebhard looks a little pale, Astrid observed.

Ja,” Neustatter said. He looked to Astrid’s brother. “Hjalmar, I assume you are the one who got off the train at Halle and arranged for Hofmann’s men and the extra car at Naumburg Station?”

“I just got a message to Sergeant Hudson,” Hjalmar said. “He set up the rest.”

Ja, I definitely need to work for you,” Eggers told Neustatter, “and learn your tricks.”

Astrid knew Neustatter was grinning. But her brother’s embrace kept her from seeing it. She did hear what Neustatter said next.

“You need to get a message to that other CoC team and call off their private vengeance. And probably let your other two men know what happened—the ones who missed the train.”

Ja.

“All right,” Neustatter declared. “I need to know my employees’ names.”

Ich bin Friedrich,” the ritter said. “Just like Gebhard.”

“You may call me Miss von Kardorff,” his sister told Neustatter. “It would be improper of you to use my given name. I will be Miss von Kardorff, whom you encountered during Krystalnacht.”

“That is quite a long title,” Neustatter noted. “Longer than the whole village, as you describe it.”

“There are up-time women named Crystal,” Astrid offered. “If I am going to train you as a security consultant, you could use that name.”

“Lots of agents have code names,” Neustatter agreed. “Let us find a tram.”

Miss von Kardorff lagged behind the others. “A code name?” she asked Astrid.

Ja.” Astrid explained.

“Very well. I will be Krystal von Kardorff for now.”

Astrid started to follow them toward the tram.

“Miss Schäubin?”

She turned. Neustatter still had his pistol out. He held it out, but pointed safely away.

“Holster it for me, please. I can still shoot. Just cannot let go.”

Astrid pried the weapon out of his fingers, checked the safety, and holstered it for him.

“That whole train ride is a long time to almost get shot,” she observed.

Ja. A few hours at gunpoint gets tiring,” Neustatter allowed. “I do not want you to get hurt, but we take risks to protect others.”

“I know,” Astrid told him. “You are getting warm broth with breakfast, and you are going to hold onto it until your fingers uncramp.”

“Exactly what I was thinking,” Neustatter agreed.

****

A Szekler in a Kilt

a-szekler-in-a-kilt-banner

Gyulafehérvár, Transylvania

January 15, 1634

 

Later they said it all had happened because of the good looks of copper-haired Mary.

Pretty she was and kind, as a daughter of a Saxon innkeeper should be. The generous way she cast her eyes from below her light copper hair was attracting the thirsty folks to this place better than the much-diluted Solymos wine from Transylvania’s famous vineyards.

The evening had fallen early, and only a few gloomy guests were sitting around the drinking room where Mary had just spread fresh straw on the floor. It was a small tavern near the town’s wall edge where poverty colored the streets with dirt but her father kept the floor clean all the same. The girl was wiping the tables and dreamily peering through the window into the swirling snowflakes that had imprisoned the city in a cold grip.

There was a loud bump as the door opened, and two dark shadows were silhouetted against the snow-bound street, letting in a draft of cold wind and sleet. The two figures merrily thumped the mud and ice off their boots and their hearty laughter betrayed the fact that they were far from sober.

It could be seen from their clothes and lofty airs that they were gentlemen, not often seen in a lowly place like this. The first man looked like a German in his fine thick cloak and broad-brimmed hat that sported a golden ostrich feather. He carefully shook the snow off the brim and turned his long face decorated by a goatee beard toward his companion. In badly-accented Hungarian he said, “My friend Selim, this is the tavern that sells wine to Turks like you. . . and she is my extra ‘treat’. . .” and he nodded and grinned at the young maid with visible lust.

The tall man he addressed had finished brushing the snow from his expensive fur coat and undid its gilded straps. When he removed his fox fur hat, it was clear he was a Turk as his head was almost fully shaven, with a long tuft of hair left on the top that came down to his shoulder. His long black moustache also fell in Eastern fashion down almost to his chest. He darted his quick small eyes to his partner and grumbled something incomprehensible.

At that time it was not a small thing to see a Muslim drunk in public. In the prince’s town it was even forbidden to sell wine to the Turkish traders or the envoys of the Padisah, so as to not offend them.

Beside his thirst for wine, the fact that Selim used the Hungarian language was a telling sign that he was a renegade, a pribék as the Hungarians degradingly spoke of those who traded their faith and fortune in exchange for a better faith and fortune. Knaves and traitors, they were cast out even from Transylvania, not just from the borderland of Royal Hungary. When caught, they were mercilessly and painfully put to death. In King Ferdinand’s country anyone, even a peasant, had right to kill them in broad daylight.

However, he was at ease and strutted confidently to an empty table where he dropped his heavy outer garments carelessly onto it. His green velvet kafthan and bejeweled fingers showed off his high position in the service of a Turkish envoy. Turkish delegations were not uncommon in the town of Gyulafehérvár or “Erdel Belgradi” as they called it.

“You, my beauty, just give me some wine and two goblets.” The German fished a coin from his purse and flipped it at her. “And take this double thaler for your smiles.”

Both grinned as they watched the girl trying to catch the silver coin. It eventually fell before their legs, and Mary had to scramble to find it among the straw.

When they were settled and wine was served, he offered a full goblet to the Turk, raising his voice as he spoke clearly enough for the entire room to hear.

asiakmrd“Take this delicious drink of sherbet and taste it, Selim, be my guest! Let us drink first to the health of your Padisah Murad and then, to the health of Emperor Ferdinand, long live them both.”

The Turk drained the goblet and equally loudly replied. “Ha! The sherbet you bought, Hans, has turned into the burning liquid of the houris in paradise when you spelled the name of the great Sultan Murad. Give me more of this magical sherbet, Hans, my true friend, may Allah be praised for his miracles.”

The few Saxon and Hungarian customers of the inn could see that the Muslim envoy was not committing a crime against his faith since he was offered sherbet. Yet, the Hungarians spat and turned away their heads. Some swords were rattled angrily when the renegade made his toast, but though every sane able-bodied man wore a sword in these times of danger, drawing a blade on each other was banned by Prince Rákóczi.

The dark-faced Turk and Hans continued chatting and drinking merrily until they spotted the only person in the tavern who paid no attention to them.

The strange man—rather a lad—was leaning above a big sheet of unfolded paper. He pulled out a pair of small spectacles and balanced them on his nose, folding the paper outward so that those who cared and could read English could read its title: The Grantville Times.

“Look what we have here, Selim. He is your countryman, isn’t he?”

“Nay, his skull is shaven in the stupid Hungarian fashion. Faithless giaur dogs don’t grow a decent long mop of hair to praise the Prophet, rather they leave an inch-wide ridge that grows from the forehead to the nip of their neck. Look, his blond mustache is waxed horizontally and not descending over his chest. He is a Hungarian pig, worse than that, he is a Szekler, I know this because of his grey coat, trimmed with those black braided fasteners.

“And now you think yourself very smart, my jolly friend, but you need to look more closely at him. As a clerk of a diplomat who had travelled much with my noble Lord, Maximilian Hoffe, I’ve encountered many weirder folks than you. You may have missed his blue and green maidenly skirt. This man right here is a Scot, no doubt about that.”

They continued arguing the pros and cons and seemed to enjoy themselves enormously. Finally, they put out some gold coins to wager who was right and decided to investigate further.

Hans stood up, goblet in hand, tasted it and made a sour face, spitting and spilling the content all around him, as he shouted at the barmaid.

“What sort of wine is this that you poison us with, you Saxon witch?”

His words had hardly left his mouth when dozens of red wine drops rained down on the white pages the lad was studying.

Instantly a very angry cry emerged from the lad followed by a long and complex Hungarian curse. This proved the Szekler origin of the young man.

****

Selim pondered to himself that decent European folks stabbed each other for less and softly caressed his Persian scimitar’s grip.

Clearly his German ally had no strong command of the Hungarian language for he was yet to be convinced, poking his sheathed rapier under the boy’s plaid kilt and lifting it.

“And who do we have here…? A boy or a little girl perhaps? A nasty girl, with a rather bad tongue? Selim, what is under the skirt . . . ? A Protestant Scottish arse or a pretty Szekler male-whore’s member . . .?”

Selim had no time to warn his stupid companion that he had better not mess with a Szekler for everything happened in a blur.

A fist landed and a nose was bloodied. Chairs were kicked out and a basket-hilted sword was drawn on the German, who staggered back, wiping his face.

“Eat my sword, you peasant dog!” Hans shrieked and his long rapier slipped out quicker than one would expect, seeing how drunk the German was.

Selim hurled himself between the two and roared at the red-faced young man who was ready to stab Hans on the spot.

“Come out into the snow, and let me take your blood for insulting the Sublime Padisah, you coward Szekler or whatever you might be!”

The three men rushed out of the inn, along with the onlookers who trampled the snow outside and drew a circle around them.

Even the barmaid ran out with them, putting a warm shawl around her shoulders. She gripped an older guest, a strong Saxon in a butchers’ apron and pleaded with him to help.

****

“Uncle Michael, please do something, we don’t need the trouble we will get from the city guard if they kill the lad!”

He nodded at her in agreement and shouted out in German.

“You all slow down, damn it. Can’t attack two on one—there are rules to dueling.”

“You must fight one on one and only until first blood. Saber against saber or rapier against rapier.”

“I am the first,” the sobering Hans replied in German.
“Give this peasant’s offspring a proper sword.” He waited until someone offered an old rapier to the boy who put his Scottish sword aside.

The lad was steaming with rage and hefted the rapier, trying out its grip and balance. Saying nothing, he just stepped into the circle. he wore only his Szekler coat above his blue and green kilt.

He made the sign of the cross but gave no sound. Instead, he took up a low guard with his rapier and leaned forward.

Hans fleetingly wondered how this lowly creature seemed to have a knowledge of Fencing Master Meyer’s art of the rapier . . . at least as far as his guards were concerned.

He then dismissed this as nonsense and carelessly dashed at him with his well-practiced master thrust that aimed at the neck but usually pierced the liver.

Not this time.

The strong thrust wasn’t parried but was allowed past the defending blade. The momentum carried Hans forward, past the young man’s left side and while struggling to steady himself on the slippery ground he felt a burning pain from behind. Then a kick that sent him sprawling on all fours.

“Remember, your German lordship, when you try to sit again that it was a Scot who made a second hole in your arse . . .” he heard the young lad cry out, and his words were accompanied by the loud laughter of the onlookers.

****

Selim was watching the fight solemnly and quickly assessed the boy’s martial skills. He shrugged and exclaimed, “Bismallah! Let Allah’s will be done.”

The Turk was a man well into his thirties, and he not only knew the Szeklers’ way with the saber, but he had also learned from the best Turkish masters of Istanbul and so knew much more than what the janissary schools would teach to an ordinary soldier. Besides, he trusted the thin chainmail shirt that was hiding under his kafthan.

asiaksbrThe lad had already been given a broad-bladed Hungarian saber, a wicked cavalry weapon that, unlike rapiers, was usually used from horseback. Yet, each saber-wielding nation had their own way of fighting on foot. Szeklers were no different. . . Moreover, these ancient mountain folk preserved their age-old martial traditions that went back to the shadowy past—when all Hungarians were still Huns, using a runic alphabet and curved bows.

Selim knew all about this and the Szeklers’ impulsive and hotheaded nature.

“Come, giaur dog, dare to attack the servant of the Padisha’s envoy . . .” he said. They began the saber-dance anew; circling around each other to have a feel of their distance, while taking up the rhythms of war.

“Let dogs lick up your blood . . .” He kept talking as he watched the darkening face of his opponent, “Your mother was a whore who serviced a thousand mercenaries, wasn’t she?”

A loud cry. A flash of light and a metallic clash, was followed by an excited murmur.

“Easy, my son . . . perhaps I am your real father . . . you might kill me!”

The boy’s eyes shone like the prongs of pitchforks and he was gritting his teeth. Now they entered the second circle, drawing nearer to each other. Three rapid steps and one quick strike and parry. Circling on. It was just a game, for the moment.

The elegantly curved Persian blade turned aside the heavier sword with little effort yet all the while the Szekler was pressing Selim fiercely.

Now the Turk feigned a surprised face, as if he had slipped on the snow, and revealed an opening under his right armpit. The Szekler’s saber took the offered opportunity and the lad’s eyes shone triumphantly when the sword’s edge cut into the green kafthan.

However, the rigid blade did not tear apart the Turk’s ribs and lungs as expected. Instead, the sound of steel on steel rang in the street. The young man was confused and paralyzed for a moment and in the next instant the grinning Turk sliced at the boy’s head, but not with a killing intent. He wanted to humiliate the lad first. Perhaps killing, too—but later.

Blood flooded the Szekler’s head but he just shook the gore from his eyes. Instead of falling into a retreat he struck back as if nothing had cut his skull.

Selim wasn’t expecting such a fast riposte, so he was caught unguarded and now his head was also bleeding. Angry, he wanted to finish the boy off.

It was a duel to death now, and both of them knew it. The onlookers tried to separate them but when Selim threateningly swung his scimitar towards them, they shrank back in terror.

****

There was no laughter anymore, and no one noticed the slender figure who ran away through the falling snow, her copper hair flying behind. Now she wanted to call the city guard before it was too late.

The fighters renewed their circling, but there were no more games. Blades flew rapidly back and forth, sometimes parried but sometimes not. Selim’s kafthan was in tatters and the chainmail glittered through the gaps. The lad was entirely covered in red and was already stumbling from the loss of blood.

Usually saber duelists did away with each other by repeatedly wounding their opponents so as to weaken them—the constant jumping and moving literally pumped the blood out of the body during the few minutes while the fights lasted. The very same was taking place here and now, and all foresaw the outcome.

Selim didn’t hurry to finish with the boy. He deliberately chose targets and struck with a deadly precision.

“You wretch,” he said. “You disgraceful puppy. You underling. Take this for the Padishah. You swine. You wine-drinker. This for the True Faith. And this for Hans, you nameless . . . ”

The lad feebly dealt with every second blow and then just stood, gazing forward.

“I am a Szekler and a Scot,” he said. “My name is Bálint. Bálint Felföldi. You may kill me, but you will remain the pribék of your own land.” With that he spat at Selim’s eyes. With hatred and spittle clouding his vision, Selim raised his arm high to deliver the final blow. Shadows and torchlights were moving and voices cried around him when his slim scimitar savagely sliced downward.

Two halberds fell from the sky, blocking the deadly strike. Arms grabbed his kafthan and pulled the Turk back, while a shaft of a spear tripped him from behind. Suddenly Selim’s sight was blocked by helmeted heads and angry voices filled the air as he lay in the befouled snow.

The city guards had arrived.

****

 

Gyulafehérvár, capital of Transylvania

January 23, 1634

 

“His name is Bálint Felföldi, he is a petty nobleman from Szeklerland,” said Péter Alvinczi, the preeminent Calvinist leader in the country and advisor to Prince Rákóczi. Alvinczi was making his report to the Prince’s chief spymaster, Gáspár Bojthi, in his office within Prince Rákóczi’s palace.

The walls of the spacious and elegantly appointed room were decorated with paintings, and the grim faces of ironclad heroes were all peering down at the two men. The one who was tall and aesthetically thin was dressed in grey robes; the other, shorter and heavier, wore a dark red embroidered cassock known as a dolman.

Alvinczi went on, “His late father was, indeed, a Highlander, a lieutenant, and a piper, too. Yes, a follower of the Stuarts, a staunch Papist.” Breaking from his dry recital of the facts, he inserted a passionate opinion of his own. “Our wrathful God is punishing our poor country, using the Turks’ hand, for the sins of Catholics like this one!” But at a stern look from Gáspár, he reverted back to stating the requested facts.

“Yes, your Lordship, the English word highlander translates as Felföldi in Hungarian. This man’s father served with the Scottish mercenaries who distinguished themselves defending Lippa and Temesvár castles in 1595. There were a hundred and fifty of them. A pity that only thirty of them survived the sieges, good soldiers they were. Later those few survivors mingled with the Szeklers. General Mikó knows more about them since he is the Szeklers’ leader. Bálint’s father was ennobled for his valiant deeds in 1611 by Prince Báthory. So it would not be wise to hang him. Beheading is more befitting to his position.”

“Reverend Alvinczi, would you give away the life of this poor lad so lightly?” asked the spymaster, with a tired sigh. He knew of Peter Alvinczi’s burning hatred against the Catholics and privately despised him. Alvinczi, the chief Calvinist pastor of the city of Kassa was infamous for having eagerly assisted in the execution of three Jesuits in Prince Bethlen’s time.

Spymaster Gaspar had too many troubles since the sudden arrival of the small American town of Grantville almost three years before, and he really wanted this pastor out of his hair.

According to the Americans’ encyclopedias, Alvinczi should die this very year, he thought to himself, but the bony man in his audience room looked very healthy and thirsty for more blood.

“Sir Gáspár,” he protested, “he is a rogue. Would you risk the principality’s fragile reputation for the sake of a criminal?”

“Certainly you don’t want to give him to the Turks, do you, Reverend Alvinczi? Their ambassador wants to have him impaled. On the other hand, the Holy Roman Emperor’s envoy, being a Christian, would simply send him to the gallows.”

“Then, it seems we need a proper trial.” Alvinczi sniffed. “We shouldn’t waste more time with this issue when we have a large amount of information to evaluate. Sir, our enemy is devouring Europe with those devilish ideas and devices before our very eyes. We have no time for toying around,” he snorted.

“There will be no trial, I say,” Sir Gáspár said decisively. “Reverend Alvinczi, do you know the details of the incident at that tavern?”

The pastor made a dismissive gesture with his hand.

“A hotheaded young drunk insulted the men in service of the Turkish and the Austrian ambassadors and dared to wound them with his sword, violating the ban on duels at the same time.”

“Clearly you don’t know that they asked for trouble? That the Turk was a pribék?”

“Sir Gáspár, you should know best that we also use informers who sell secrets for money . . .”

“The Turk was drinking wine and violated the rules by doing so…”

“Sir, he says it was his friend who bought it, and he was offered the drink as a sherbet. There are witnesses to it. He says it must have been the barmaid who turned it into wine by using witchcraft. You should rather put her to the question about that, though . . .”

“Reverend,” Sir Gáspár frowned “it seems after all that you know more about the details than one would have thought. Do you also know what the lad was doing before their argument?”

When there was no answer, Sir Gáspár pulled out a sizable sheet of paper and presented it.

“He was reading The Grantville Times, the newspaper that is being printed and distributed by those people who have turned the world upside-down.”

The thin man of faith was quick with his reply.

“Now I see, Sir Gáspár, why you don’t want a trial. You have caught an agent! Very well, we don’t need to give him up, we can have our ways with him to make him speak.”

This was too much for Sir Gáspár Bojthi. His head felt the tension building up in him. He jumped up from behind his richly carved desk and snatched up the newspaper on it. Then he held the broadsheet in front of the sour-faced reverend’s nose.

“Read it! Read it out loud!” His hand was shaking.

Alvinczi went pale and said nothing.

“Can’t you read it, damn it? No? But he can! Tell Professor Pál Keresztúri Biró to put the lad on our payroll immediately as a teacher of English and interpreter. He is assigned to work on the materials Count Csáky had sent from Grantville. The lad is not to leave the palace and must swear the same oath as the rest of the scribes. And I make you personally responsible for his well-being as well as for his quick recovery from his injuries. Now be off with you.” With a wave of his hand, Sir Gaspar dismissed the pastor from his presence and his thoughts.

****

 

Gyulafehérvár, Transylvania

February 12, 1634

 

It was late night when Bálint sank down on his knees before going to bed in a small servants’ room in the southern wing of the palace. Finishing his prayers, he carefully eased himself to the mattress, placing his aching limbs to rest. The stitches held but his wounds were burning . . . all eleven of them.

Had Mary not run after him when he was taken away, he would have perished in the dungeon of the city hall. She had sewn him up the best she could and seemed to have shed a tear for each drop of his blood. When she left in the morning, she had appeared unsure if he would make it. Yet, it was her silver that bought him fresh clothes and drier cell. She sent around the city barber-surgeon to visit him twice a day to replace the bandages, and every morning there was a new basket of food filled with bread and cheese, the good Saxon sausages, and the heavy red wine of Eger. He saw her no more—but she was in his prayers every evening. She was a fixed point where his exhausted mind could gain some rest after the days when his head was spinning and full with hundreds of new words and pictures.

****

Some ten days after the duel, a visitor appeared in front of his bed—no less a personage than Chief-Pastor Péter Alvinczi.

Bálint recognized him at once from a picture that had been circulated on a pamphlet that had portrayed Alvinczi as the executioner of the martyrs of Kassa, the three Jesuit priests who had died for refusing to recant their faith. Now that the minister has moved to Transylvania, he was close to the staunchly Protestant prince’s ears and was one of his most influential advisors.

There had been pity in the reverend’s eyes as he looked Bálint over.

“My poor son, God has visited you for your crimes. Your enemies want your life badly.”

Bálint had already guessed this much but he was utterly puzzled why the man should care. Silently he kept looking at his visitor, becoming more alarmed as the priest continued.

“How fortunate you are, however, that I happened to hear about you. I might well be convinced that you were innocently accused and perhaps then, I could help you. Just perhaps.”

“What am I to do to make you believe, Reverend?” Bálint asked as he looked up at him. “I was provoked to engage in an unfair duel where my opponent had chainmail hidden under his robes.” The pastor puffed his cheeks and made a pious face.

“I know you are still an idolator and haven’t come to know our Lord. If I saw your willingness to repent your sins and embrace the new and clear faith in fear of the wrathful God, I’d be possibly inspired to save a true man’s life.”

Since Szeklers speak little and Scots talk just as much, Bálint pursed his lips and said nothing.

“Do you know, my poor son, that the Turkish envoys’ servants are already looking for the place where they can impale you? The Austrians are also readying the gallows-tree for you. Only God can save you now.”

“Reverend, tell me please . . . is it true that the third Jesuit you murdered finished his life after being left for three days in a cesspit? What was his name? Will I have a trial, unlike them?”

The thin man leapt to his feet as if bitten by a snake.

“You, you will be sorry for this—very, very sorry,” he said. Alvinczi left the cell in a fury.

Bálint sighed and thought of his late father and smiled. “He would have liked this jest,” he said aloud, to no one in particular. “I might tell the old bugger soon, in person, while drinking his favourite ale.” And he hoped sincerely that there was beer in heaven.

****

The next morning he was not surprised when two blue-clad Hajdus, the uniformed palace guards of the prince of Transylvania, came for him.

“Is the hangman Turkish or German?” he asked.

“Why should it matter?” The first soldier shrugged. “You Szeklers are very funny folks. Rather tell me—can you walk or should we give you a hand?”

Bálint snorted at the question and mused aloud. “Once a man was being taken to Hell by the Devil, he met his pal on the way who felt sorry for him. But the Devil pointed out that it would be really sad if the friend was made to carry them both all the way to Hell. So why should I complain?”

After taking a moment to catch his breath, Bálint struggled into a standing position and left the cell on his unsteady feet.

To his great surprise, outside he was gently helped into a sedan-chair and the guards carried him to the huge palace that had been newly built by Prince Gábor Bethlen.

It was not for nothing that the previous Prince of Transylvania had been called the man who had turned his realm into a prosperous Fairy Garden in an age when half of Europe was busy killing their neighbours or their own people who happened to be of a different faith.

The palace had been built in the late Renaissance fashion, its four wings enclosing an elegant square surrounded by a circular gallery in the Italian style. A baroque fountain, now covered for winter, adorned the centre with four stone benches around it. The rest of the square was divided by a labyrinth of neatly trimmed evergreen hedges that opened up to small courtyards where green wooden benches awaited the noble guests and residents when the weather was mild.

Bálint was led to the southern wing where he soon learned that he was not to leave the palace without permission and was never to venture to the northern wing as that was reserved for his Highness, György Rákóczi I, his lady wife, and his two sons.

Bálint was looking around in awe while he was ushered into a reception hall where a clever-looking, bald man dressed in simple grey robes with a delicate lace collar had just finished the briefing of a large group of scribes . . . all but one of whom hurried away to their duties.

“Good morning to you,” the man said pleasantly. “Please come with me to the library on the second floor. Later, you will be shown your room on the third floor where the rest of the lads have their lodgings.” Gesturing to the young man who remained at his side as he walked, he continued. “This is Johannes, a very bright apprentice of Herr Professor Alsted. He will supply you with all the necessary things you need. But forgive me, my name is Pál Bíró of Keresztúr, but please just call me Professor Bíró . . .”

Darting eyes were assessing him, making Bálint acutely aware of the sorry state of his bristling skull which was neither properly shaved in normal Szekler fashion, nor fully grown out in the manner of the palace servants. Bálint could find no words for a moment—for he had been addressed in English.

“Professor Bíró . . . I am honored to make your acquaintance instead of a hooded figure in black,” he responded, also in English. “I am called Bálint the Highlander or Felföldi, and I am gladly in your service unless you wish to convert me.”

“Very well.” Bíró nodded approvingly. “You can really speak the tongue, I see. No, I don’t need your soul but your brain. You have had the good fortune to meet Reverend Alvinczi, haven’t you?”

“I think he might have not felt it so.”

“So I heard, so I heard,” Bíró said as he shook his head sadly. He was also a Protestant pastor, as Bálint was to learn later, but in his teachings he focused on the individual’s personal experience of a loving God and was not liked by Reverend Alvinczi for it. He had studied in England so his position in court had greatly appreciated since the appearance of Grantville.

“I am hopeful that you will join our community of scholars. Our rules here are simple and clear enough. Johannes will tell you the details. As much as I know of you, you like reading and stand against injustice,and you don’t abandon your faith,” he added. “So far, so good. I promise to introduce you to the greatest intellectual challenge a Scot or a Szekler might face. To tell you the truth, we need your language skills quite badly, but if you are afraid to join us, you are to be given a horse and a saddle so you can go back to General Mikó and continue to serve—as an honest Szekler would.”

“Sir,” Bálint said hesitantly, “Professor Biró . . . what about my duel?”

“What duel? I know nothing of the sort. Just go ahead, and Johannes will take care of you. Report back to me in the evening, Bálint.”

With that, Biró squeezed his hand where it was not bandaged and strode off, leaving Bálint staring after him.He started when his sleeve was tugged and looked around to find the young scholar still at his side.

“Come with me, friend,” he said in Hungarian. “I am Johannes Deák but call me Jancsi. Did you really cut the Turk’s head off and throw it before the legs of that beauty called Mary? Is her hair reaching down to her ankles as they say? We have prepared you a snug little room upstairs, and I wager you have had not had breakfast yet.”

****

The scribes lived on the third floor, two to a small room, but their daily routine kept them busy at various places of the building. Bálint listened eagerly to Jancsi’s chatter while systematically devouring the flavorful bacon and white bread. The youngster had black hair and matching eyes that sparkled with intelligence and good humor as he related the information Balint needed to know along with a good amount of palace gossip.

Jancsi’s master was Professor Heinrich Alsted, the theologist-philosopher from Germany. Renowned for his encyclopedic works, he had come to Transylvania in Prince Bethlen’s time. He was accompanied by two of his German colleagues, Heinrich Bisterfeld and Ludwig Piscator. Initially, their task had been to collate all the information gathered from Germany, and their scribes tried to summarise it in Hungarian. Now they had the task of researching the American “up-timers”.

Like Jancsi, these scribes were students who had studied in Wittenberg or in the Netherlands and had a strong command of either German or Dutch. Their numbers were ever increasing—currently there were more than one hundred twenty of them, not counting the servants and the palace guards, but there was still a great need for more teachers of English.

asiakhdjEvery Friday Reverend Alviczi called them together to summarize their weekly work. Jancsi grinned as he talked about it, but he said that Bálint would see the thing for himself in due time. Jancsi also told him about the pretty serving maids who lived and worked in the western wing, and if anybody needed anything, the chief-butler arranged it without a question. Scribes were not allowed to leave the palace, except when they visited their churches on Sundays and even then they were guarded by the hajdus. No weapon was permitted, except during the regular fencing lessons.

Jancsi also made his dislike of Reverend Alvinczi clear as he let Bálint know that the reverend had a network of informers reporting on all behavior that undermined discipline. He dropped his voice to a whisper to tell of lads who just happened to disappear all of a sudden. It was said they were taken to Déva castle where dangerous “laboratories” had been set up and “field experiments” were being conducted.

He admitted he found the work hard. Sometimes whole sections of texts made no sense, and there were dozens of new terms and words appearing every day.

“Sometimes I feel hurled into the depths of a well made by demons,” he said. “It is one thing to hear about the Americans from the future but touching their objects gives all of us goose pimples. The up-timers’ pen that was issued to me to work with is a smooth, flexible, and transparent stick that writes by itself, without having to mess with ink and constant dipping. And there are small pictures called photographs that open a window to peep into another universe.” Jancsi was slowly shaking his head as he poured some wine for his friend. “I prefer the books, above all. With their small type and thin pages and the wonders they talk about. These books and newspapers that we are given to translate and read aloud fly us to a land of fairies and impossible miracles. I warn you, there are hundreds of words and terms that make understanding very hard, and sometimes we can only guess what they mean.”

“Is the reverend so hostile with all new ideas?” Bálint asked when Jancsi had paused to take a breath.

Jancsi nodded. “Why, it is not for nothing we call him the ‘Old Vampire.’ Unfortunately, Reverend Alvinczi seems to have a ready explanation for everything. During his weekly summaries he puffs his cheeks, like this, and spends the first hour by cooling down the more enthusiastic researchers. He thinks there are many of us who have been dangerously infected by the new ideas and fantastic scientific facts we are learning. He goes into great detail as to how these concepts will be put to use by hostile and evil envoys of Satan to create horrible devices to destroy the true believers in the wars of the future.”

“What does he conclude?” Bálint asked as he finished the last morsels before him and looked around for more wine . . . in vain.

Jancsi made a sour face and began imitating the pastor again.

“—’Why, don’t the up-timers themselves admit that they were our enemies in both terrible world wars? Didn’t President Wilson’s intervention turn the balance of the Great War against us? Without the Americans’ intrusion, Hungary would have become the leading power of the continent . . . maybe even of the world! Think on that! Which country suffered the greatest injustice after that first World War? We have just learned that in the future three-quarters of our country will be torn off and given to riffraff, upstart, never-heard-of countries like Romania or Yugoslavia . . . and let us not speak of that creature called Czechoslovakia.”

Bálint couldn’t help laughing.

“You say Ceczho . . . sclovo . . . or what? You are pulling my leg!”

But Jancsi could not abandon his role as teacher and he continued.

“In the second great war they just repeated this crime and after twenty years of that they were still our enemies. Count Csáky recently put his life in danger to bring us a few pages from one of their encyclopedias. Brothers, the Americans considered Hungary was their deadly enemy just because we were ‘Communist.’—” Jancsi was rolling his eyes as he spoke.

Bálint was afraid his wounds would tear again because of his laughter.

“But—” Jancsi held one finger up in the air as he continued his narration. “—who might Communists be other than humble Protestant folks who shared their possessions in their communa as it was done by the first Christians before the Catholics corrupted the holy religion? The Americans admit that their presidents and bankers are all shape-shifters!”

Bálint’s eyes widened at this revelation.

“They are lizards, the demons from hell!” Now Jancsi gave out small whining sounds to indicate Alvinczi’s terror and said, “If somebody catches a glimpse of their terrible true nature, he is instantly eaten up alive. So don’t let yourself be misled by their glittering object and lies. Besides, they are openly trafficking with the Turks to get coffee!”

“Jancsi, stop it please. And send for the barber!” replied Bálint, choking.

 

 

Gyulafehérvár, Transylvania

March 22, 1634

 

Bálint’s wounds were nicely healed by the time the fields were all dressed in green. He was fidgeting like a badger in the thorn-bush and was just grumbling about everything in the palace. His hair had grown out and both it and his moustache were trimmed short. He had a new kilt obtained from the palace tailor after he’d given a careful explanation of how his clan tartan should be woven.

When he began to attend the nearest Catholic church, accompanied by two of the palace guards, he was pleased to find copper-haired Mary in the congregation, and they exchanged warm smiles. The next day he begged a special dispensation from Spymaster Böjthy so that he could have his Sunday afternoons free as well. From then on he and Mary spent their Sunday mornings attending Mass and the afternoons in her father’s tavern.

Some other afternoons, Bálint gave his friends fencing lessons in the palace’s wide corridors or in the yard if the weather was good. It was on one such occasion he met Achmed.

As Bálint was explaining a particular stroke to Jancsi and two other scribes he became aware of a stocky man in a kafthan with a small silk turban on his head. Seeing Turks in the palace was not unusual for quite a few of them served there as musicians, scribes, or cooks but Bálint became annoyed when the Turk began shaking his head.

“What’s wrong with this saber-turning?” he asked him, putting his limited Turkish to use.

“Young man,” came the answer with a friendly smile. “It is a nice drill for the parade ground but such a stroke can be outsmarted with ease.”

“Then show me how you do it . . .”

As soon as the soft-looking, plump Turk was offered a saber the tip began flying about his opponent’s head like a butterfly, and Bálint found himself disarmed in a heartbeat.

A deep and sincere friendship developed from that first fencing lesson. Bálint was happy to pick up more Turkish while they were discussing many interesting things they had in common. Every Sunday they met, sometimes practiced a bit or just talked.

It turned out that Achmed was a musician and had seen many battlefields for the Turks never fought without music. Bálint’s father had been a piper and taught the skill to his son. Achmed brought out his Turkish clarinet, and they played for each other. Bálint also knew the Szekler flute and showed him all the Scottish and Szekler tunes he could play.

Achmed had been a war prisoner of Prince Bethlen. Some years ago he had been freed for his musical skills, and he had decided to stay on and serve the prince of his own free will. Bálint slowly realised that not all the Turks were evil—at least not those ones who were not the subjects of the Ottoman Empire.

 

Gyulafehérvár, Transylvania

March 23, 1634

 

Professor Bíró and Spymaster Gáspár Bojthy silently regarded the tall young man before them. Bálint was not offered a seat since both gentlemen were pacing the length of Sir Gáspár’s elegantly appointed reception room.

The professor’s voice finally broke the silence. “Tell us freely. What do you think of the intentions of these folks called up-timers, according to your observations?”

“Pray, make it short,” added Sir Gáspár.

Bálint took a deep breath and looked into their eyes.

“I entirely disagree with Reverend Alvinczi. These Americans may have come from the future but they did not ask for it. Therefore making them our enemies is the greatest wrong that can be done against both our nations. They could be powerful allies, and with their assistance we could chase the Ottomans out and build up a stronger state than even King Matthias’ had been. With their scientific knowledge there would be neither poverty nor epidemic anymore. Their ideas would be certainly welcome compared to how Reverend Alvinczi views the world.”

Professor Bíró was nodding his bald head in agreement but Spymaster Gáspár seemed to have some doubts. So far, Reverend Alvinczi had refused to send anyone to Grantville after Count Csáky had returned, but perhaps Sir Gáspár believed the time was now right. Finally, after another long pause, he gave the instructions to Bálint Felföldi as if he was talking to a soldier:

“You are to go to Grantville, accompanied by Johannes, the apprentice of Professor Alsted. He has stronger German skills and he speaks Dutch, too. You must observe how these American people live and worship, spending enough time with them before you contact and greet them officially, on behalf of Prince Rákóczi. Tell them we are not friends with the Austrians, and the Turks are our enemies. We seek peace and trade, first. Their ambassadors are welcome. You can show them the way. Here are your credentials and traveling letters. Take this ring. Use it to seal all the reports you send.

“Your contact in the Netherlands is Gábor Haller. He has had a well-built intelligence network from the time of Prince Bethlen. You are to accept orders or instructions if you see the sign of the same ring or the ring itself. Your contact in Vienna is Cardinal Péter Pázmány. Again just show him your ring and he will provide you with everything you may ask for.

“In short, make your best attempt to prove to the up-timers that the Principality of Transylvania is a strong power in the civilized part of Europe and has plentiful resources. Tell them that our land has remained untouched by those terrible wars that have laid waste to half the continent. Moreover, we offer asylum to religious refugees fleeing England and Switzerland because we have given shelter to everyone since our first Prince Johannes Sigismund introduced the freedom of religions in 1568. Since the time of Prince Gábor Bethlen even the Jews are free to trade and live unmolested without having to wear the signs of Solomon.

“Now go, Bálint Felföldi, with God’s blessing but take this gold for your expenses. You are to leave tomorrow at dawn along with Scribe Johannes and you may choose two good horses from the Prince’s stables. Questions?”

“Sir Gáspár, there is someone to whom I have to say farewell if it is granted.”

“Go, young man,” he said with a wink, “but no more trouble with that girl or we will reintroduce the laws for punishing witchcraft . . . five hundred years after King Kalman the Bookish abolished them!”

****

Good German Axes

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Wittenförden

November, 1635

 

Kunigunde stood in the quiet dim coolness of her mother’s house near the very center of Wittenförden, a small, secluded village where she knew she was not welcome.

ggawttnfrdnThe house, before, during, and after her mother, had been slowly expanded so that the loft was now more of a shelf, and the central hearth was large enough to heat the interior without the addition of farm animals.

Good, strong German trees had been felled by good German axes, some of which her papa had made from good German ore, to hold up the well-made roof. What had been an exterior meeting area with an awning rather than a roof was now an interior room with a long, heavy table that had seen much, carried much, and been scarred, burned, and gouged by much.

Those who experienced it called it a section of castle wall laid upon its side.

The door was a good, strong German door held together by strong German hinges with a lock that held the door tight to the frame. For all its inherent value and strength and thickness it could not prevent the silence from coming inside.

“Papa?” she asked quietly. She did not expect her father to hear her. Not yet.

If there was anything in the house that was her mother it was the hearth Kunigunde had her back firmly turned to; more of an oven and a stove than a mere fireplace. In the winter it could heat a house three times the size of this one and make meals for ten times the number of people who commonly ate at the table that was also behind her.

The hearth was a clever combination of brick and cast iron with a clever collection of tools; each one made to the sort of exacting specifications her papa was well-known for from Schwerin to as close to Berlin as anything from her papa dare come.

Even Danzig knew of her papa’s specifications.

Once a year, sometimes twice, a wagon came and took away tools and pieces of carefully crafted metal to places in Poland that might not know her papa’s name but knew her papa’s work well.

Wittenförden might not be well-known or easily locatable but it was well-thought of.

Like her mother . . .

“Papa?”

In the end it was the silence that made her open the door, forced her out into the very late morning, almost midday. There should be loud, raucous noise, and there was not.

“Papa?” She was louder this time.

From sunrise to sunset her papa’s forge, his smithy, was never silent, and he was the loudest thing or person there. Wittenförden rang with his blows upon red, hot metal. Not now.

A wagon had come and there had been voices and the rumble of unloading. There had been horse sounds and wood sounds and the sounds of footsteps but no sound of the forge. No sound of her papa.

When her papa awoke and found the apprentices gone for the holiday in Schwerin he had not bellowed, so she had hunkered down in her mother’s kitchen awaiting the inevitable, which never came. She struggled through the baking of bread and simmering of broth and the cutting of vegetables but, all morning, there had been silence.

“Papa?”

The wagon had gone with the normal sounds such things make, diminishing in the slow distance along a road, a path really, back to Schwerin.

Kunigunde had finally taken off her mother’s apron, the one she wore while working inside the house, and put on the leather apron, the one the women of Wittenförden looked at with disapproval. She left the house and strode across the yard and stopped at the boundary between house and smithy.

She would have dared the women of Wittenförden and even those of Schwerin to say any single thing about her leather apron, the one she wore in the smithy when she worked beside her papa, whether he or the women of Wittenförden approved or not.

In the distance she could just hear the wagon, its sound diminishing, respectful of the silence of the smithy.

“Papa?” she inquired of the silence that haunted the smithy, a silence so unnatural in a usually loud and busy place. The crackle of flames or the sizzle of the quenching trough would have been loud in this silence.

The heat was there and the smoke and the smells of metal, hot and cold. There was nothing obviously amiss. Everything from brooms and baskets, hammers and wood and coal and charcoal were all where they belonged. Work waited to be finished and finished work waited to be paid for and taken to market.

Such were the tides of the smithy of Wittenförden.

“Papa?”

Her papa was a big man. Normally he dominated the smithy and the vast sound of him filled the countryside. He was called ‘the Smith,’ rarely by his more common name, Ernst.

Few from Wittenförden, fewer from Schwerin called him Ernst. No one in her memory used his family name, his surname. Formally, which was rare, he was called Herr Ernst.

To her, he was simply Papa. The surname didn’t matter to her, not here, certainly not now.

“Papa?”

Wittenförden produced two things: axes of all sorts and the trees those axes felled.

Her papa made the finest axes in the north of Germany, possibly Poland and the south of Germany as well and his skills at fixing wagons and harness, at least as far as the metal that bound the wood and shackled the leather, were well-thought of.

Any farmer or shepherd who needed a knife fixed or a pot mended could depend on her papa’s strong arm and firm, well-placed hammer blows. With those same hands and same hammers he made needles and pins far too fine to come from a place so obviously a smithy created to make axes and horse shoes and loud, large things of metal.

When he made needles and pins Kunigunde thought, for a moment, he was remembering her mother, his wife.

“Papa?”

“Stay away!” His voice finally burst out of the smithy like a flock of geese thrown up and off the nearby lake. “Go back in the house where you belong! Go!”

Kunigunde did not stay away. She did not go. It was not in her nature to do so. Besides, the memory of her mother was in that house. Better she should be here, being bellowed at by her papa, than inside remembering the mother she never knew.

Kunigunde strode forward into papa’s command as if it were a stiff wind, cold and forbidding, full of ice and snow, but between her and where she needed to be.

In the end, it was not her papa’s command that stopped her, but his silence.

“Papa?” Kunigunde began. “What is wrong? You are not working? The forge is almost cold. Look . . .”

“You are like your damned brother. He doesn’t listen either. Off being chased about . . . swinging that damned sword like he knew what he was doing! Instead of coming to show himself, show that he was well, he sends me this damned . . . trash. Both of you don’t listen.”

“I am not like my brother! I am here. He is not. You should thrash those lazy apprentices!”

The silence was oppressive, stifling. She expected a response, a noise, a shout. Anything?

She had to walk around the large, brutish hulk that was her papa to see what had silenced him.

It was a pile of metal on the smashed and pounded dirt floor of the smithy.

Armor.

“Is that blood, Papa?”

“This is no place for a woman. I told you to stay away! Why can’t you follow directions? Why?”

She stood beside her papa and looked at the pile of metal on the ground, before her.

“I should marry you off . . .” he muttered. “But who would have you?”

His hands clenched. She could hear muscles creak.

“What will you do with it all, Papa?”

The silence was hot and lasted a lifetime, or so it seemed.

“It is good metal . . . the best . . .” her papa whispered. “Some fine man had it made to protect his precious son and see what good it did? What a waste . . .”

That frightened her. The whisper frightened her. In her fifteen years she had never heard her papa whisper. He was too big to whisper. Even his soft good night could wake the dead then frighten those very same dead back into their graves!

There was no fear in that whisper, no reverence or the quiet of men waiting for just the right moment to set loose an arrow at a rabbit tempted close and careless. His was a whisper of remembrance, when louder words might scare a memory away.

He was remembering her mother, and events even more tragic, and because he did she must.

In that silence her sigh was loud.

Kunigunde took a deep breath, adjusted her leather apron and began.

She let her loudness speak for both of them. Her actions were obvious, designed to confront her papa’s silence, to challenge his whisper. She clattered and banged and stomped. She slammed and clashed and grunted. Smithies were excellent places for noise and clamor!

This was the part she liked; early in the morning, scaring the night away with the awaking of the forge; the eager clanging of the smithy ready to do work.

But this was midday. Kunigunde sighed and forged forward, anyway.

She made up for the time of day with loud rattling and shaking of the metal armor as if to wake the dead; even if that dead was the one who had worn this armor.

She cut off the leather straps, carefully, putting the knife down as loudly as she dared when finished. You did not live in a small town like Wittenförden and not understand the concept of “waste naught, want naught.”  Everything, even silences and memories and forgetfulness, had a use.

Even the distaste and frowns of the women of Wittenförden made when she appeared had a use.

Once the cloth and leather was taken away, the metal need only be heated and pounded and used to make other things, useful things. There were a myriad of things to do; bring the forge to the right temperature, collect the appropriate tools, check the metal for anything that might interfere with the work.

She could see where a few ‘garnishments’ had been gouged out of the metal. The enameling had been light and she left it alone. The blood was more like a thin, powdery mud now; easy to ignore.

The silence from her papa was almost unbearable. She wanted to shriek at him! But shrieking was something women did.

Papa told her once that her mother never shrieked until that day, that horrid and not easily remembered day, when Kunigunde had been born.

She let the clanking of the metal shriek for her. She slammed the bellows into action until the coals glowed and the leather shrieked.

The idea was to heat the metal and pound it back into an ingot which could then be re-forged, cut, shaped into useful things.

Usually her papa was loud with comments and instructions, loud proclamations and deep, bellowing reprimands. Even his compliments came as loud as his recriminations, but not now.

Silence.

Once heated, once the stench of scorched blood was removed, she pulled the red-hot metal from the furnace and placed it on an anvil.

Her papa had many anvils and woe betide the apprentice or daughter who chose the wrong tool for the work at hand.

She chose a hammer.

Her papa had many hammers and woe betide the apprentice or daughter who chose the wrong one for the work at hand.

This was a critical part of the process and usually there was a loud, brutal chorus from her papa on which hammer and which anvil to pick and which not to even consider, let alone touch.

She had learned early to never touch a single tool in the smithy without permission. That she did so now, using his silence as permission, hammering her papa with his own silence, frightened her, scalded her.

Her papa often fought with her. Until now, she had never fought with her papa.

Even that time when she had stolen one of her papa’s hammers for a purpose it was not meant for, applying to a boy’s forehead, she had not fought, not dared to fight, with her papa.

The memory came and she smiled as she slammed and clattered and made noise in the once-silent smithy.

She had been nine in that memory; a shorter version of her present self. She had been angry, fuming like a red-hot forge, even at nine.

The memory of that nine-year-old girl came silently to her mind.

Kunigunde knew she was not pretty, then and now. Forges, though, do not make such unnecessary judgments. Anvils did not care about beauty. Hammers merely hammered.

A group of boys from Wittenförden had once made her lack of beauty well-known, even as far away as Schwerin, and the nickname horse-face, pferdegesicht, had been used once too often, and when a nine-year-old daughter of a well-respected and busy blacksmith is annoyed she reaches for a hammer.

Her papa had many. Would he even notice? When you are nine you do not think of many things that you consider long and quietly when you are fifteen.

Papa did notice, of course, but that was for later in the memory.

She chose the largest boy in the smirking, mocking pack and applied the hammer to the front of his skull in as un-woman-like a manner as could be imagined by any woman of Wittenförden.

Sons had worth, value, preciousness and wore armor. Daughters had a place, a kitchen perhaps or shrieking in childbirth, little more.

The boy, now older, still bore the mark. The women of Wittenförden and even Schwerin remembered the girl who gave it and marked her, therefore, as a woman outside her place.

If anyone used the nickname pferdegesicht, it was done out of her hearing, though. Sometimes “horse” was replaced with “ox,”, sometimes unconscious fingers rubbed uninjured foreheads when she was seen in public.

What was one to do with a girl who did not have a mother and did not know her place?

Her papa had used a strap on her for taking one of his hammers without permission but only smiled whenever he thought of the village boy who now became very quiet around his daughter and rubbed the spot on his forehead and found other things to do and other places to be.

His approval of her was silent, but a smiling, approving silence.

Not like this present silence.

Finally, a hand pushed her roughly aside and she staggered and, suddenly, the smithy erupted into noise—good, hardworking, hammering, clanging noise.

ggafrgTogether, papa and daughter, beat the hot metal until only memory remained of its former use.

But that memory was more than enough, possibly too much.

 

Later that night at the supper table, between the hearth and a good German door

Kunigunde had an aunt, her father’s aunt, who often came to the house to help with womanly chores in an effort to show her, force her to see, how a real woman behaved and where her place was.

This aunt cleaned like a man beat a disobedient dog. She cooked like a wagon driver whipped a lazy horse.

Tonight she had not come, and Kunigunde did the cooking.

Reluctantly.

Supper preparations began just after breaking of the fast, with an interruption for a quick, hasty lunch. Her arms were tired, and her mind did not need the memories cooking brought.

This had been her mother’s house, her kitchen, her place, not her daughter’s.

The kitchen was well-ordered and scrubbed and clean and the house as tidy as one could imagine when so few used it so very infrequently and cleaned it often.

It was almost as if someone had tried to erase the memory of her mother; except for the letters shaped into the metal of a little, cast-iron door—To H.

She closed her eyes and trembled with the memory of those molded words.

Kunigunde, Gundie to her brother, brought the large metal pot to the heavy oak table and set it down like a hammer blow. Her papa made many pots and pans and other cooking utensils but, in this house, there was one pot used to cook almost anything from chickens to carrots or both at the same time. As pots went it was very utilitarian, no embellishment, nothing fancy.

She stabbed the ladle, the only ladle available while the smithy burst with tools of every sort, inward, smashing aside the vegetables, splashing the liquids like blood, forcing aside the chunks of good, German meat, then sat down with all the grace of a sack of coal dropped beside the forge.

Her papa knew not to comment and her brother didn’t even look. That was how she liked it.

To H—these were the letters on the little, cast-iron door on the stove.

It had been her large head that had done the deed.

Cooking reminded her of that fact, which was one reason why she hated it.

Papa clapped his hands together in what should be, but never was, quiet prayer.

Kunigunde had taught herself, much to the disdain of the women of Wittenförden, to cook quickly and efficiently. This, of course, gave her more time to be in the forge despite whatever her papa said to the contrary. The forge wasn’t work to her as the house was. Her memories of the forge were pleasant. Memories of the house and hearth were not.

Papa began the prayer. Her brother was silent throughout the prayer.

It had been her large head that had done the deed.

Kunigunde pretended the smell from the stew wasn’t a smell she had anything to do with.

“God bless the memory of my mother, amen,” she added to the very end of the prayer her papa almost bellowed and her brother barely acknowledged.

Eating began slowly, quietly, like the heating of a forge.

Kunigunde did ‘stew’ well. Throw it all into a pot and heat. Pretend not to see To H.

It was her great, big . . .

“I had them send you some of the metal, father!” Reichart stated as proud as a spring sun rising over the mountains it thought it had conquered. Kunigunde almost smiled.

His name, like hers, was far older than he was. Reichart wore it like he wore his clothing; like it was in style or would be or had been.

Her papa, ignoring his son, ate as one who was deaf or deafened.

“The apprentices will be back tomorrow at sunrise, father,” Reichart stated. “They are celebrating the victory over those who thought they still ruled here. The fools were coming from Berlin to set things straight. We set them straight, instead! We sent them straight back to Berlin . . . those that survived. We sent a message that we are not serfs waiting for our masters to come back and tell us what we must do!”

Her papa, ignoring his son, ate as one who was deaf or deafened.

She prodded the stew with her spoon. Her father had made an entire set of spoons and even forks as a gift to her mother whom she killed with her . . .

“Father . . .” Reichart began.

“I am eating!” papa bellowed like a mishandled forge.

The silence was punctuated with the sounds of slow, methodical eating.

Her brother made one more attempt, though oblique.

“I brought this for you, ‘Gundie.” He smiled, purposefully not even looking at his father. He reached out his fist and opened it just above the good, German table, beside her almost empty bowl.

ggantsThey were metal; that much was obvious. They were shining bolts with nuts screwed on them. They were too small to be bolts with nuts screwed on them. There were no tools in her papa’s smithy to make bolts this small, let alone tighten them.

Her papa made needles and pins with his biggest hammer on his largest anvil, like he was challenging the challenge.

What could possibly require bolts that small?

How were they so shiny? They were not silver or silvered.

Kunigunde looked up quickly at her papa who was cleaning the bottom of his bowl with a chunk of bread torn like a limb from a tree, not cut from it with a good, German axe.

“Now these . . .” He produced two . . . things that she could almost explain. They were bolts with some sort of sleeve on them. The sleeve was metal, and the bolt screwed into it. “. . . I don’t know what they are. There is so much I do not know.”

Her brother paused as if listening to his father’s grunt, as close to a laugh as she had ever heard him make.

“I traded for them. Tell father I am going to find out. I am going with my friends from the Committees of . . .”

The hand came down on the time-scarred table that many compared to something like a wall. The sound was like thunder and the table actually shook. It required at least three strong men to move this table, but it moved under her papa’s single hand.

“Not in my house!” her papa bellowed.

“. . . next spring, when all this mess goes away . . .” her brother continued as if his papa’s hand had not come down and the heavy, oak table, with bolts large enough to kill a man with a blow delivered to the forehead perhaps, had not moved.

“. . . and how will you know this mess, the mess you and the fools you call friends created, will ‘go away’? How do you know that you and your foolish . . . friends have not brought it here? Those who are born to rule do not give up easily what they are taught they deserve. They are not iron that can be made into gold or gold that can be made into iron. They are men! Men!”

“. . . I will go to Magdeburg or Hamburg at least and find out what these are and how to make them . . .”

“. . . we do not need them! We do not need to know how to make these things!”

The silence was loud. Kunigunde knew to wait through the silence.

“I might even go to this . . . Grantville, Father.”

Kunigunde waited for her papa to explode. When he did not she looked at him.

“Your grandfather . . .” her papa began as he so often did in situations like this. He turned to his papa like a priest turned to the Holy Cross. Her brother turned away, at such times, like a heretic.

“. . . first you call my friends fools then you want to remind us all of this revolt of the peasants and your father.  His revolt failed, Father! This one will not!”

She waited for her father to explode. He did not and his short silence frightened her.

“And what will you do when your friends take control and become the monsters you killed out there somewhere? Will you kill them, too? Iron does not change. Men do.”

“Iron rusts, Father!”

“And with a simple procedure it can be made into iron again. Men age and piss all over what they once revered and cherished! Men pray to God on a Sunday then do evil to make the devil weep on Monday. Men smile and rub their hands before a meal then squat and shit and fart. Men rust then change into something else and then forget how to be men again! Iron does not forget it is iron! Even when it is rust it remembers!”

“Father . . .”

“All this . . . this Grantville did was remind men they can be what God never meant them to be. Boys need to be trained to be men and men need to be reminded where they came from and to where they will all go!”

“Father . . .”

“Papa!”

“Go. You are almost nineteen. I will not stop you. Wait for spring. Wait for all hell to freeze over! When you go, take your friends with you. When you go . . . don’t come back. Don’t bring your human rust to my forge!”

With that papa stood and receded into the darkness that huddled like memory around the table.

“I don’t understand him,” Reichart said softly, almost whispering. “So much is changing. Why will he not change with it, ‘Gundie? How do I make him understand?”

“The armor you sent to us . . . it was made for a very young man and resized to fit a man . . . a few years older, maybe one about your size. You don’t understand. His tears sizzled on the metal, on gashes and gouges. You did not see those tears, Reichart. He is afraid for you. He sees you in the stories he remembers from his grandfather and his papa. He sees you on those battlefields, hung from trees, heads cut off with good German axes. He is afraid and papa does not . . . fear well.”

“This is different! Things are different now! Things will be better . . . I swear . . .”

Kunigunde heard the whirring and felt, through the table, the crisp thunk of the good German axe into the large, wooden pole, once a good, German tree, that helped to hold up this part of the roof.

There was more than enough space, overhead, for a whirling axe; a good, German axe. Papa wanted his wife to feel she cooked in a large kitchen not a hovel somewhere in a secluded place in Germany. He was proud of that tall roof and the open space.

The silence was stunned, brittle; like the silence after a tree falls hard onto good German soil.

“You might need your grandfather’s axe for this . . . new, better, different world, this bright shining whore you will be running to this spring,” came the pronouncement from the darkness that surrounded the table like the past. “Take it when you go. When you hold it . . . maybe you will remember who held it before you and . . . remember that someone might hold it after you are gone.”

“I wish you luck, brother,” Kunigunde told her brother, speaking as soft and still as the dust that was rattled out of the rafters, as the memory of her mother. “Will you help me clear away the meal?”

****

Dr. Phil Rules the Waves

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September, 1636, Prague, Bohemia

Dr. Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz, president for life of the Royal Academy of Science, knew what was coming the moment Samuel Hartlib, the secretary of the Royal Academy, stepped into his personal laboratory at the top of the Mihulka Tower—there could be no other reason for him making the climb. “What am I being dragged off to this time?” he protested as he put away his pen and got to his feet.

Samuel had the cheek to smile. “Prague Radio is almost ready to begin transmissions.”

“And?” Phillip asked as he replaced his white lab coat with a jacket in a beautiful shade of orange.

“Someone from the Royal Academy has to be there when it is declared operational.”

“Why me?” he asked. “You’re the secretary. Why don’t you go?”

“Because, Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz, sometimes only the president will do.”

Phillip sighed. “And I suppose you’re going to tell me that this is one of those times?”

Samuel nodded. “This is one of those times, Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz.”

Phillip glared ineffectively at Samuel, whom he was sure was laughing at him. “There seem to be a lot of these ‘one of these times’ events,” he protested as he gave his laboratory one last check to make sure he hadn’t left anything on. Unfortunately, it seemed there was nothing more to delay the inevitable. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

****

The room was full of the usual band of hangers-on for whom being seen in the right place, and more importantly, being seen talking to the right people, was important. Phillip managed to pretend most of them didn’t exist—and thus he didn’t have to greet them—as Samuel hustled him to a place of honor.

Phillip found himself seated alongside Vernon Fritz, the up-timer with overall responsibility for getting Radio Prague built.

“Hello, Dr. Gribbleflotz,” Vernon said as he held out his hand.

Phillip knew enough to accept the offered hand. “Herr Fritz,” he said as they shook hands.

“Sorry to drag you away from whatever you were working on, Doctor.”

Phillip waved the apology away. “No need to apologize.” He shot a glance in Samuel’s direction. Yes, he was watching. Phillip redoubled his efforts to keep a smile on his face. “So Radio Prague is ready to go on the air?”

“That’s why we’re here,” Vernon said. “Have you got your speech prepared?”

“Speech?” Phillip just managed not to shout it out, instead keeping it to a loud hiss, mostly directed at Samuel.

Samuel passed Phillip some papers. “Frau Kastenmayerin and I prepared something for you.”

Phillip scanned the pages, shooting Samuel repeated glares as he did so. Samuel and his own wife were taking advantage of his disinterest in anything to do with the running of the Royal Academy to advance their own agenda. With a final glare that was intended to show Samuel that he knew what they were up to, Phillip put the prepared speech to one side and turned his back on Samuel.

Vernon had a grin on his face. “You weren’t aware that you would be giving a speech?”

“Of course I knew I would be giving a speech,” Phillip said, lying through his teeth. “It’s just that I was so caught up in my research that I didn’t get around to preparing anything.”

“It’s fortunate that you have such good support in Herr Hartlib and your wife.”

Phillip shot another glare in the general direction of Samuel Hartlib. “Yes, it is,” he muttered. “So, Herr Fritz, what do you do now Radio Prague is ready to go live?”

“I’m contracted to hang around for another six months to deal with any teething problems.”

Phillip understood about teething problems—he had a son and daughter who’d been born on the 29th of February. Fortunately the nursery maid his wife’s stepmother had located for them had known what to do. “We’ll miss Frau Rutilius and Herr Bockelmann when they leave.”

“Oh, they won’t be leaving when I go. They’re on two-year contracts.”

“They are?” Phillip hadn’t known that. It opened a whole new world of opportunities. “Would there be a problem with them wiring my apartment so that I have electric light?”

Vernon shook his head. “There shouldn’t be a problem with that. Both Mags and Dietrich are qualified electricians. They’ll just have to do the work on their own time.”

“Naturally,” Phillip said, even as he wondered how he could get them to do the work in their normal working hours. Nothing leapt to mind, but maybe Samuel could help. Sorting out that kind of problem was what he did best.

Samuel slid up beside Phillip. “Herr Doctor, it’s time.”

Phillip gave Vernon a smile before picking up the prepared speech. “I’ll catch up with you later,” he said before following Samuel to the podium.

****

Phillip nodded his head as a token bow to acknowledge the applause his speech was being accorded. After a few minutes he held up a hand to silence the applause. “Thank you, thank you. Now, it is my proud honor to pass the baton onto—” He paused to glance at Samuel, who like the good secretary he was, was indicating the next person. “—Herr Vernon Fritz, the man responsible for bringing us Radio Prague.” He stepped back to allow Vernon up to the podium.

Phillip tuned out while Vernon spoke to the crowd. At some point, he was sure, someone was going to flip a switch. Obviously it wasn’t him, because Samuel would have told him so. He edged away from the podium so he could whisper into Samuel’s ear. “How much longer?” he asked.

“The formalities will end soon, Phillip, but you’ll be expected to hang around and talk to people,” Samuel said.

Phillip sighed, probably a bit too loudly judging by the way Samuel’s brows lifted. “I have experiments I have to get back to,” he protested.

“Have to?” Samuel asked. “What could be more important than keeping the Royal Academy in the public eye?”

Phillip knew that to Samuel keeping the Royal Academy in the public eye had priority over everything else. He also knew that if it weren’t for Samuel acting as a gatekeeper, he’d constantly be pestered by people wanting the Royal Academy to fund their pet projects. In the interests of keeping Samuel sweet, he kept his mouth shut, settled back in his seat, and waited for the evening to end.

 

A few days later

Vernon Fritz was walking down the street listening to Radio Prague on a portable crystal set he’d knocked up out of some bits and pieces he happened to have lying around. Reception on his portable set was good, which considering how close he was to the transmitter, was as it should be.

In addition to checking reception, Vernon wanted to check on the local reaction to the new radio service. Obviously he wasn’t going to find many people wandering the streets listening to the radio, and he could hardly go knocking door to door to ask if people were listening to the radio in their homes, so that left just one option. He was going to have to visit inns and taverns to check. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.

He couldn’t hear a radio playing at the first tavern he stopped at. He discovered why when he stepped into the main room. There were people listening to the radio alright, but they were taking turns listening to a single crystal set. That wasn’t what he’d expected from a tavern. He approached the barkeep.

“Hello, I’m with Radio Prague, and I was just wondering what you think of the new radio station.”

The barkeep snorted loudly and shot a glare at the single crystal set in the room. “It’s useless. I thought I was being smart buying a crystal set, but while everyone wants to listen, they are too busy trying to hear to buy drinks. At least with the newspapers they buy drinks.”

Vernon was nodding as he listened to the man’s tale of woe. “What you need is a proper radio, not a crystal set.”

“I most certainly do,” the barkeep agreed, “but do you have any idea how much one of those things costs?” Before Vernon could utter a word the man continued on. “And then there’s the cost of batteries. The crooks that run the recharging service charge a fortune.” He stared at Vernon. “You’re an up-timer, aren’t you?”

Vernon nodded.

“Well, why aren’t you doing something about it. What I need is a radio that can be heard anywhere in my tavern, that doesn’t need electricity to work.”

Vernon backed away, promising to see what he could do. It would have served no purpose to tell the man that a radio for his tavern that didn’t need electricity was an impossibility—radio needed power in order to function.

The man shot a final couple of sentences after Vernon. “Maybe that Dr. Gribbleflotz can do something. I understand he’s the world’s greatest scientist.”

Vernon sniggered as he walked away. Dr. Gribbleflotz was not the world’s greatest scientist. If he was the greatest anything, he was the world’s greatest and luckiest fake, and there was absolutely no way he was going to invent anything that could solve the man’s problem. He headed for the next tavern, and this time he intended buying a drink before trying to talk to anyone.

 

Meanwhile, at the HDG Laboratories facility at the Mihulka Tower

Thump! Clatter! Thump!

Magdalena “Mags” Rutilius looked up from the new instrumental circuit she was struggling to assemble and saw a red-faced Georg Hoffman scrambling to pick up his crystal radio’s earpiece. “Stop!” she said. “Now, jump on it.” 

Georg looked at her in horror. “But that would break it,” he protested.

“Really?” she asked. “I thought that’s what you were trying to do.” She looked over her four assistants. This wasn’t the first time an earpiece had been dropped since Radio Prague went on the air, but on top of a fast approaching deadline to deliver the theremins they were making, Mags’ left arm was itching like crazy under its cast—she’d broken the arm saving Dr. Gribbleflotz’ lucky crystal from would-be thieves—as a result, her temper was not its usually sunny self.

“Look,” she said, trying to keep her temper in check. “This just isn’t working. You’re spending half your time fiddling with your earpieces instead of working.” She gestured to the incomplete theremins lined up against the back wall. “We need to get these theremins completed by the end of the week,” she told them, “so, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to listen to the radio only during your breaks.”

“But, Frau Rutilius,” Fritz Schmieles protested.

“Put them away now!”

No one was expecting the command voice from the small woman. All four laborants scrambled to remove their earpieces and stow their crystal sets. As they did so, Mags caught sight of their faces and suppressed a groan. The expressions on their twelve-year-old faces put her friend and mathematics tutor Daniel Pastorius’ best poor beaten puppy expression to shame, but Mags dare not show any apology for roaring at them however she felt. 

The four boys quietly turned back to their respective tasks, but their air of abject misery permeated the room. 

“It’s no good trying to make me feel guilty,” Mags informed the boys, schooling her face to sternness. She had no intention of telling them that they were succeeding.

“Why can’t we have a radio like they have in the kitchen?” Georg asked.

Mags laid down her tools and reached out to cover Georg’s hand with her own. “I’m sorry, but radios are expensive, and they need a source of electricity, which we don’t have, even if I could afford an electric radio.”

dprthrmn“But the Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Theremins don’t need electricity,” Fritz said, gesturing to one of the said machines sitting against a wall in the room awaiting the installation of the components Mags was working on.

Mags’ initial reaction was to smile at how Fritz insisted on giving the theremins their full name, with a lot of emphasis on Gribbleflotz. Clean clothes, three meals a day, and a warm bed to sleep in bought a lot of loyalty. She was just about to launch into an explanation about how the theremins converted the power generated by pumping the treadle into electrical power to drive the oscillator and amplifier when she realized what she was about to say and froze.

“Is there something the matter, Frau Rutilius?” Michael Thurn asked.

“Noooo,” Mags managed to say. “Hans, Fritz, bring that theremin over here.” She pointed to the space on her right.

“Lift it, don’t drag it,” she added when she heard the scrape of the theremin’s wooden legs on the floor.

“What are you going to do?” Hans Grünhut asked as he and Fritz carried the nearly completed Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Theremin over to Mags.

“Give me a moment,” she said. Mags studied the amplifier unit she’d been working on. If she replaced the oscillator inputs to the coil with the crystal set outputs . . . A smile spread across her face. She might have a solution to the earpiece problem. She disconnected the oscillator and turned her attention to the nearest crystal radio. Unfortunately, it was on the other side of the room, close to where the boys had been sitting.

“Okay, let’s get everything over beside that crystal radio,” she said, pointing to one of them.

The boys leapt into action and carried, not dragged, the theremin to the crystal radio Mags had pointed to. It took just a couple of minutes for Mags to solder the wires to connect everything

“Do you want this?” Georg asked.

Mags glanced round to see Georg was offering her fuel for the flame triodes. She shook her head. “Thank you, but we don’t need the flame triodes for this,” she said before she started to pump the foot treadle that spun the Alexanderson Alternator’s rotor. Soon she could hear Radio Prague through the speaker.

 

A few days later

Vernon walked into the radio station expecting to see everyone busy. They weren’t. They were gathered around a door watching something happening in the machine room. That didn’t bode well for the rest of the day.

Ernst Goetz, the locally-employed manager of the radio station, looked up. “Herr Fritz. We have been looking everywhere for you. Hans here has a problem.”

“What’s the problem?” he asked as he walked over. The sight that greeted him wasn’t pleasing. Hans had an access hatch of the main power cabinet open. He could hear that the Alexanderson Alternator was operating, which was comforting. It wouldn’t look good for the station to be off the air so soon after going live.

Hans Rohfritsch lifted his hands in a show of frustration as he pulled his head out from inside the cabinet. “Someone managed to break a coolant pump. That meant the coolant in the first bank of liquid rheostats started to boil, which resulted in a surge going through the main power supply. Fortunately, the backup system kicked in as it was supposed to.”

Vernon’s whistle wasn’t particularly pleased. “How the . . .” He managed to bite down on the expletive before it escaped. “The system is supposed to shut down before the coolant starts to boil.”

Hans shrugged apologetically before turning accusing eyes onto Ernst. “Someone pulled the override.”

Vernon turned his gaze onto the current villain of the piece. The override was only supposed to be used during maintenance operations and there were supposed to be safeguards in place to stop it being accidentally pulled during normal operations.

Ernst immediately started to stutter out excuses. “It was an accident,” he said.

Vernon raised his brows. It must have been some accident, he told himself. “You’re a front room guy, Ernst. What the heck were you doing in the machine room?” That got more mumbled excuses from Ernst. Vernon raised his hand to silence him. “Let’s forget about how it happened for now and just worry about getting it fixed.” He turned to Hans. “Can you fix it?”

Hans backed away from the cabinet he’d been working at and shrugged. “I’m pulling the boards to check on them. Meanwhile, it would be good if someone could unbolt the covers from the liquid rheostats.” He paused. “Maybe Frau Rutilius?”

“She’s still on the sick list,” Vernon said.

“But it’s her left arm that is broken, Herr Fritz, and she’s right-handed,” Hans said. “If Frau Rutilius can get at the mounting bolts . . .” He gestured to one of the enormous liquid rheostats to complete the sentence before going on. “Otherwise . . .” He left that sentence hanging, because Vernon would know exactly what the otherwise option was.

Vernon looked at the rheostats and realized that there was a design problem and winced. The bolts holding the heavy liquid tank covers in place were virtually inaccessible from above, blocked by another cabinet mounted above them. The space between them was far too small for Hans. He could unbolt the front of the covers from below, but there was no way for him to reach the bolts at the back.

He checked the rest of the watching team. Some of them were smaller than Hans, but they were all giants compared with the pint-sized Mags. If she could get into the gap between the rheostats and undo the bolts holding the covers in place, then they wouldn’t have to disconnect complete rheostats, unbolt them from the floor, and lift the heavy units up just to remove the tops. It would save them days of backbreaking work. He made a note. The next time the station was down, they would have to move the upper cabinet. Meanwhile Mags was the answer, “I’ll drop by and see how she’s doing.”

“Dietrich has said that Frau Rutilius is suffering ‘cabin fever,’ ” one of the other technicians said.

That statement amused Vernon. Dietrich was actually Dietrich Bockelmann, an electrical trades graduate from Grantville who had graduated in the same class as Mags. The rest of the team at Radio Prague happily called or referred to him by his Christian name. Meanwhile, Mags was still Frau Rutilius to everyone but himself and Dietrich. As for the cabin fever, he could easily believe that, and he was pretty sure Mags would leap at the chance to get back to work. It was going to be his job to stop her from making her injuries worse. “If I don’t think she’s fit to come back to work, she won’t be coming. So, Hans, I want you to look at ways to get at those rheostat covers while I’m gone. Meanwhile, the rest of you can get back to work.”

 

Mihulka Tower, HDG Laboratories (Prague)

Vernon made his way into the workroom where Mags was muttering to herself as she fiddled with one of her retail crystal sets. He watched quietly for a while, listening to the sound of Radio Prague coming from one of the other work rooms. The reception was good, as was the sound quality. Eventually Mags looked up and saw him.

“Herr Fritz!” she said as she scrambled to get to her feet.

Vernon waved a hand. “Stay seated. I just dropped by to see how you were getting on.”

Mags glared at her arm in its plaster cast. “I can do most things, but the cast gets in the way when I need to hold something.”

Vernon nodded. He’d observed the difficulties Mags was experiencing as she worked on the crystal set. But he’d also noticed that she had ways to work around the problems. “How would you like to get back to work?”

Mags’ eyes lit up momentarily, then she frowned. “But I can’t work with a cast on my arm,” she muttered.

“Not in your normal area of expertise, but they’ve managed to boil the coolant in a couple of the rheostats, and . . .”

“Boil a rheostat? How did they manage to do that?”

Vernon shrugged. He wasn’t ready to apportion blame until he had the full story. “That’s not important. What is, is that Hans Rohfritsch can’t get at the bolts securing the rheostat covers, and we’re faced with the prospect of lifting up each unit just so we can get at the bolts so we can remove the tops . . . So, are you interested in helping?”

“Yes,” Mags said as she carefully put the equipment she’d been working with down and started collecting her tools. “I’ll need to get changed,” she said as she got to her feet.

“No problem. Five minutes here or there won’t make much difference.”

While Mags dashed off to change Vernon examined the crystal set she’d been working on. He’d been impressed enough with the earlier versions he’d seen back in Grantville to hire her over graduates from the electrical trades course with better grades. He could see that she was working on a new version, this time using a flame diode as the detector, replacing the finicky cat’s whisker and galena crystal method of demodulating the AM radio signal. He wondered how well it would work, but seeing that she’d even thought to try it reassured him that he’d made the right decision. Even if she’d managed to get herself on the sick list for the last few weeks by breaking her arm.

“I’m ready,” Mags called from behind him. “We just need to tell Frau Mittelhausen where I’m going.”

Vernon nodded and let Mags lead the way.

There was another radio in the kitchen. Or at least Vernon imagined it was the kitchen judging by the sounds and smells coming from beyond the door. He shrugged. Obviously Dr. Gribbleflotz, or more likely, Frau Mittelhausen, believed that it was worthwhile investing in radios to keep his staff happy. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t afford to buy several—and the batteries to keep them going.

****

Mags shoved her knuckles into her mouth and sucked on them. The taste of lubrication oil was offset by the taste of her own blood. Next time she saw her boyfriend’s father—Jason Cheng Sr. of Kitt and Cheng Engineering and the head of the engineering department at the state technical college in Grantville—she intended to have words with him about doing more to get engineers designing things for ease of maintenance rather than just concentrating on designing for ease of manufacture.

She pulled her knuckles out of her mouth to survey the damage. She now had a complete set of skinned knuckles on her right hand. The only reason the left hand wasn’t similarly decorated was the plaster cast that made it difficult to use the hand also protected her knuckles. She made a mental note: work gloves.

“How’s it going?” Vernon Fritz called from behind her.

“Just the last bolt to loosen, and we can lift it free.”

“So?” Vernon asked.

Mags took the hint and got back to work. A couple of minutes later she removed the last nut and washer. “Okay, you can lift it now,” she called out as she stepped as far back from the liquid rheostat as she could.

Using a block and tackle, the other workers quickly hauled the top of the rheostat free and swung it onto a cart, leaving Mags still in the cramped space she’d been working in. “Could someone help me out, please?”

Two hundred forty-pound Dietrich stepped as close as he could before putting a hand under each of Mags’ arms. “Alley-oop,” he said as he easily lifted her less than eighty-pound body out from between the rheostats.

“Thanks, Dietrich,” Mags said when he set her back on her feet. She turned to Vernon. “What do you want me to do now?”

“You can help try and breathe new life back into those rheostats.”

Mags sighed. It wasn’t what she’d hoped to hear, but the likely alternative was being sent back home.

 

Kitt and Cheng Engineering, Grantville

Jason Cheng sent the radio-controlled model of Hans Richter’s Belle into a tight turn as he tried to get it into the six of the model airplane being flown by his friend and fellow apprentice mechanical engineer, David Kitt. However, with two almost identical models, gaining an advantage in a close-in dogfight was next to impossible. He broke off and sent his model in search of altitude.

The bell of the timer rang out, calling an end to the flight. Jason circled while David landed his model of Colonel Woods’ Belle before landing his own model.

They were shutting down their respective models when Barry Thompson, their current immediate supervisor, walked up. “That last flight can’t have lasted more than ten minutes. Are you two slacking?”

Jason ran a hand over his aching neck. Keeping an eye on a model airplane meant you were constantly looking skyward. “We were dogfighting, Barry. Ten minutes is pushing the limits for that kind of intense flying.”

“Yeah,” David said, rubbing his own neck. “You can’t afford to lose your concentration when you’re flying planes that aggressively that close together. Otherwise you’ll collide and bang go two models.”

Barry nodded. “Okay then, ten minutes is the limit for close flying. I’ll pass that on to the movie guys.” He paused a moment. “Should I tell them the models are ready, or have you two not finished playing around with them yet?”

Jason glanced over to David. He got a shrug in reply, which meant, if David was thinking the same as him, that he didn’t think they could put off handing over their handiwork any longer. “Go ahead, Barry.”

He would have said more, but just then Rosina Trempling, the office manager, appeared. “Jason. Your father just rang. You were supposed to be home half an hour ago.”

Jason shot a glance at his watch. “It can’t be that late,” he protested. He looked around at all the gear that had to be put away before he could head home. He was going to be in soooo much trouble.

“Just leave it and go, Jason,” Barry said. “David and I can put everything away.”

“But you’ll owe me,” David said, making move-along gestures with his hands.

“Thanks,” Jason said before grabbing his personal gear and making a run for it.

 

Meanwhile

Jason’s older sister, Diana, had her nose buried in a book. It was no ordinary book. It was an offset-printed photographic reproduction of Dr. Shipley’s copy of Grey’s Anatomy, and the very expensive book’s presence in her personal library was a good reason to be glad of her family’s relative wealth.

She was reaching out to turn the page when there was a knock on her bedroom door. She sat up. “Yes?” she called to the still-closed door.

“Dinner will be ready in ten minutes,” her mother called.

Diana groaned and muttered about yet another interruption to her studies. “Coming,” she called. She placed a bookmark in her book before closing it and got to her feet.

 

Some time later

Jason made his apologies as he pulled out his chair and flopped down. “Sorry. But David and I were test flying the Belles and lost track of the time.”

“How are they going?” his mother, Jennie Lee, asked.

With that question, coming from his mother, Jason knew he wasn’t in any trouble. “They’re working perfectly. The engines are firing without a hitch.” That last was important, because he’d built the engines himself, copying one of the engines his father had made. Sometimes it helped to have a father who was a mechanical engineer who had been heavily into radio-controlled aircraft before the Ring of Fire.

“So you’re ready to hand them over to Gino?” Jason Sr. asked.

Jason nodded. Gino Bianchi was the director and producer of the proposed Hans Richter movie, and the person who had commissioned the two radio-controlled scale model Belles. “Barry’s going to give the studio a call and let them know they’re ready.” He looked inquiringly at his father. “So, what are you going to have David and I work on next?”

“Funny you should ask that,” Jason Sr. said, “because we’ve been asked to send someone to Prague to help with a problem the radio station has experienced.”

“Prague!” Jason said, all excited. “Can I go?” Mags, his girlfriend of more than four years was currently working there, and he hadn’t seen her since June—not even to check up on her after she’d been injured in an encounter with a couple of housebreakers.

His father nodded. “You’ll be going, as will the rest of us.” He looked pointedly at Diana.

“What?” Diana protested. “But I can’t go to Prague. I’ve got an anatomy test to prepare for, and I’ve got assignments to write, so I need access to the library.”

Jennie Lee turned to Diana. “You, young lady, need to cut back on your studies and relax a little.”

Jason stared at his mother in disbelief. “Who are you and what have you done with my real mother?” he asked.

“What he said,” an equally incredulous Diana said. “The only reason you haven’t grounded him for life for graduating only second in his class is because he was beaten by Daniel.”

“Who happens to be a certified genius,” Jason said, “with an IQ off the scale.”

Jason Sr. and Jennie Lee smiled at each other before turning to face Jason and Diana. “That is beside the point,” Jennie Lee said.

“Teacher’s pet,” Jason muttered, referring to the fact his mother was one of Daniel Pastorius’ mathematics tutors, and that they shared a true love of mathematics.

His mother glared at him. “I was speaking to your sister,” she said before turning her attention back to Diana. “You’re getting too far ahead of the rest of your intake, and the teaching staff are running out of material to give you before the class is scheduled to start working on the wards.”

Jason Sr. smiled at Diana. “We’re proud of you. You’re going to complete the BSN curriculum six months ahead of the previous best by any student, and your mother and I think you deserve a short break.”

“But what will I do in Prague?” Diana protested. She gestured towards Jason. “It’s all right for him. He gets to visit his girlfriend. But what will I do while we’re in Prague?”

“You could visit the hospital,” Jason suggested, “to see what’s happening with Dr. Gribbleflotz’ vibrating bed experiment.”

Diana snorted. “That’s a load of crock,” she said. “There’s no way vibrating beds can help patients heal faster.”

“And how do you know that, young lady?” her father asked. “At least Dr. Gribbleflotz is willing to test the theory before reaching a conclusion.”

“And,” Jason said, eager to add his two cents worth, “your friends on the veterinary program did say that cats’ purrs help speed up healing in animals.”

He got a glare from his sister in response to that. “If it was a viable treatment someone would have been doing it up-time,” she said.

“Just because you’ve never heard of anyone researching the field doesn’t mean it won’t work. Keep an open mind!” Jason said. “You never know; it might turn out to be a revolutionary cure.”

“You mean your girlfriend’s hero might finally manage to invigorate the Quinta Essentia of the human humors,” Diana said.

“Children!”

Jason and Diana froze. Their mother very rarely raised her voice. There was a mutual exchange of glares as they fell silent.

“Thank you,” Jennie Lee said. “We are all going to Prague. That’s final. Now, let’s start planning the trip.”

 

A couple of days later, Grantville

Jason Cheng Sr. slipped into the drawing room as quietly as he could. His son and his fellow apprentice mechanical engineer were attempting to produce accurate engineering drawings of two completely different bearing housings. When their drawings were complete they’d be checked for errors and corrected before being turned over to Ollie Reardon, who would then hand them on to some of his machine shop apprentices, asking them to make the bearings.

He edged up beside Barry Thompson, the company’s head, and only, qualified machinist. “How are they doing?” he quietly asked.

Barry whispered back, “They had a few teething problems finding things in the engineering drawings standards manual, but they seem to have worked out what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Jason Sr. nodded. The drawing standards manual laid down the conventions to be adhered to by engineering and drafting personnel in the preparation, revision, and completion of engineering drawings. If his son or David Kitt deviated from the standards, it was likely Ollies’ apprentices wouldn’t be able to follow the drawings. It was, naturally, a test—testing Jason and David’s ability to produce proper engineering drawings, and, after they’d been corrected, the ability of Ollie’s apprentice machinists to follow said drawings.

Before too long Barry called out that time was almost up. That resulted in a brief flurry of activity as the two youths gave their drawings a final check, making subtle alterations here and there.

“Time’s up,” Barry announced a few minutes later.

Both Jason and David laid down their pencils, pushed their chairs back, and stood. “Why do we have a time limit?” David asked as he rubbed his neck.

Barry glanced to Jason Sr., inviting him to answer.

“If you had all the time in the world,” Jason Sr. said, “you’d never make a mistake, but we’re running a business, and we can’t afford to have you spending hours we can’t charge preparing drawings, so you have to learn to work to a time limit.”

Jason and David exchanged looks. They’d learned about chargeable and nonchargeable hours when they first started their apprenticeships. Chargeable hours were included in the quote and produced income, while non-chargeable ones cost the company. David’s mother had told them in no uncertain terms not to accrue non-chargeable hours.

“Barry, if you don’t mind, I’d like a few words with Jason and David.”

Barry glanced around, raising a brow in Jason Sr. “Hey, no problem. I’ll just collect the drawings and start checking them.”

“Thanks.” Jason Sr. turned to the two boys. “I’ve just been on the phone to Gino . . .”

“Is there something wrong with the Belles?” Jason asked his father.

“No, but it is about the Belles.” Jason Sr. grinned. “How would the pair of you like to show off your flying skills to the good people of Prague?”

“Hey, cool,” David said.

“Why does Mr. Bianchi want us to fly the Belles around Prague?” Jason asked.

“He wants to use them to raise interest in his movie.”

“But he hasn’t made the movie yet,” David protested.

“Is he trying to get investor interest, Dad?”

Jason Sr. shrugged. “Maybe, but that’s not our concern.”

“Mum’ll be very concerned if we aren’t going to get paid,” David said.

“Yes, your mother would be concerned,” Jason Sr. agreed. “However, we have been paid for our work to date.”

“Including the Belles?” David asked. “We only just turned them over.”

“The check is in the mail,” Jason Sr. said. Then he grinned. “Actually, your mother has already deposited the check.”

“So if we’re taking the film company’s Belles to Prague, what happens if anyone asks to have a go?” Jason asked.

“You tell them no,” his father replied. “We can’t risk the Belles in the hands of people who don’t know what they’re doing.”

“Even the king?” Jason asked.

Jason Sr. winced. The king was probably a special case. “We’ll have to make sure the king doesn’t want to try flying one of the Belles. Gino can’t afford to lose either of them before he finishes shooting the movie.”

“There’s an easy solution,” David said. “Just take some round-the-pole or simple control-line models.”

“That’s a good idea, David.” He stood up straight and smiled at the two boys. “I’ll leave you two to sort out what you need in the way of models and spare parts.”

 

A few days later, Prague

Jason Cheng was enthralled with what he was seeing and hearing as he observed his father investigating what was wrong with the Radio Prague installation. He glanced quickly at his fellow apprentice mechanical engineer and smiled. It looked like David was also enjoying the opportunity to see an expert at work. Of course, Jason was a still a teenager, having only recently graduated from high school, so although his brain was one hundred percent attentive to what was happening, another part of his body had other considerations. It had been more than four hours since his stomach had received sustenance, and it didn’t approve. It voiced this disapproval with embarrassing audibility.

Jason Sr. turned at the first audible rumblings from Jason. “Are you feeling hungry?” he asked.

“I’m good,” Jason said, waving his hand, but his stomach disagreed, releasing another loud rumble.

“We can stop now,” Vernon Fritz, the up-time installation manager for the Radio Prague project, said with a grin.

Jason Sr. glanced over at David. “How about you? Are you ‘good’ like Jason too?”

David grinned. “Actually, I am feeling a little hungry,” he said.

“Well,” Vernon said, “rather than let your apprentices starve, how about we find somewhere we can talk while we eat?”

Jason Sr. cast an expert eye over the machine room and nodded. “Let’s.”

****

Jason stepped into the inn just behind his father and Mr. Fritz. The first thing he noticed was how quiet it was. He managed to hold onto his curiosity until they were seated and their orders taken. But once the waiter walked away he lost no time asking. “Why’s it so quiet? I would have expected them to have a radio going.”

dprtcrstlVernon glanced around the inn. “There are radios in here.” He pointed to several small groups at one the wall end of their tables. “Those people are listening to crystal sets.”

“Crystal sets?” David muttered. “I would’ve expected an inn to have proper radios.”

“Shush!” Vernon said. He glanced around quickly before turning back to David. “It’s a bit of a sore point with a lot of the public houses. They want proper powered radios, but even those that can afford them are being held ransom by the battery suppliers.”

“Can’t they just use some other source of power?” David asked.

“What?” Vernon asked. “I’m sure that if someone could come up with a viable alternative to the crystal sets the innkeepers will beat a path to their doors.”

Jason stared at Mr. Fritz as the workings of his mind tried to process what he’d said. The only reason he and Mags hadn’t seriously pursued the idea of getting married was the inability to afford to establish and maintain their own household. If he could come up with a way of powering radios . . . But then reality reared its ugly head. There were two insurmountable problems preventing the inns from using radio. Firstly, there was the lack of affordable amplifiers—the only ones available were up-time ones, and then there was the fact radio needed electricity. A crystal set might be able to feed an earphone using just the faintest bit of broadcast energy, but an amplifier needed real electricity, from either a main supply or batteries. He sighed. It had been a nice dream while it lasted.

 

That evening, the castle

Dietrich Bockelmann stopped and pointed to a window set high up in the exterior wall of the Mihulka Tower. “That’s the window Liova came flying out of.”

dprtwmhlkJason looked up and whistled. The window in question was just below the tower’s conical roof, about five floors up. Mags’ cat must have fallen at least fifty feet. “How the heck did he survive falling that far?” he wondered aloud.

Dietrich shrugged. “I’m just glad he did. Can you imagine how Mags would have felt if . . .”

There was a lot of body-English in Jason’s wince as he hunched his shoulders protectively at the potential repercussions of Liova dying. Mags loved her cat almost as much as she loved him, or at least he hoped it was in that order. “She would have been inconsolable.”

“Yeah, well, fortunately, he didn’t die, and the only person hurt was Mags.”

There was something in Dietrich’s tone that drew Jason’s attention. A quick glance at his face told Jason that Dietrich was still feeling guilty for not being there to protect Mags. “You were at work when those guys broke into Dr. Gribbleflotz’ lab, Dietrich,” Jason said. “I don’t blame you for what happened to Mags, and I’m sure she doesn’t either.”

“I blame me,” Dietrich said.

There wasn’t anything Jason could say in reply to that, so he changed the topic. “Shall we go in?” he asked.

“Sure,” Dietrich said before leading the way in.

They were confronted by a woman the moment they stepped into the building. She looked Jason up and down before turning to Dietrich. “Would this be Mags’ young man?” Ursula Mittelhausen asked.

“Yes, Frau Mittelhausen. Allow me to introduce Jason Cheng.” Dietrich nudged Jason towards Frau Mittelhausen. “And this is Frau Mittelhausen, without whom nothing would get done around here.”

Ursula held out a hand, and with a quick glance Dietrich’s way for reassurance that it would be correct, Jason took the hand in his and shook it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Frau Mittelhausen. Mags has spoken about you often.” Which was true, Mags had, although not always in a complimentary manner.

Ursula’s smile suggested she suspected as much. “I expect you’ll want to see Mags. She’s up in the workroom.” She stared hard at Dietrich. “Dinner will be in half an hour.”

Dietrich grabbed Jason and started to tow him away. “I’ll see that they’re both down in time,” he said.

Jason cast a despairing look at the fresh bread on the kitchen bench. “What’s the hurry?” he demanded.

“Mags has got something you need to see.”

“What?”

“She’s made something I think has real prospects.” He set off towards the workrooms.

“What?” Jason repeated his demand as he chased after Dietrich. The last thing she’d made was her theremin, which had been adopted by the Prague chapter of the Society of Aural Investigators as the Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Aural Detector. That was a nice little earner. He wasn’t sure what the current market price for them was, but he did know the first one sold for thirty Venceslasthaler, or about three thousand dollars. “What’s Mags made this time?”

Dietrich glanced over his shoulder. “Follow me and you’ll find out.”

He stared at the Dietrich’s departing back for a few seconds before hurrying after him, catching up with him just outside the main workroom in the Mihulka Tower.

There was sunlight shining through a window, illuminating Mags. Jason just stood there, taking in the vision before him. Meanwhile, Dietrich made their presence known, and Mags’ head shot up. She saw Jason, burst out of her chair, flew across the room, and threw herself at him. Fortunately, Jason was able to catch her, even as she swung her arms around his neck.

“Ouch!” Jason protested when Mags’ plaster cast hit his head.

“Sorry,” Mags said before hauling herself up off the ground to kiss him.

“Hey, Georg, who told you to stop pumping?” Michael Thurn called out.

To Jason’s disappointment the shout by one of the laborants caused Mags to break off the kiss and lower herself to the ground, but not out of his arms. He looked over to where a laborant was starting to pump the treadle of a theremin box. He glanced down towards Mags and was just about to ask what was going on when he heard the theremin’s high pitched note turn into music. Hearing it, he realized there had been music playing when he first entered the workroom, and if the music was restarting as Georg pumped the theremin . . .

“Is that a radio?” he asked, pointing at the machine emitting the music.

Mags shook her head, but Dietrich contradicted her. “Yes,” he said.

“But it’s not,” Mags protested, turning her head towards Dietrich. “It’s just a theremin I rewired so that the input is from a crystal set instead of the oscillator.”

“Which makes it a radio.” Dietrich looked towards Jason. “I only discovered what Mags had done a couple of days ago, after we heard you were coming to Prague, otherwise I’d have told Herr Fritz.”

“But why would you want to tell Herr Fritz that I’d wired a crystal set to a theremin?” Mags demanded.

Jason pulled Mags until her back was against his chest, and hugged her. “Because there is a demand out there for radios,” he said.

“Especially ones that don’t need electricity,” Dietrich said.

“But it uses electricity,” Mags protested.

“Dietrich is talking about mains or battery power, Mags. And your new radio doesn’t need either.”

“Yeah,” Dietrich agreed. He turned to Jason. “How do you think it’d work in a bar?”

Jason thought about for a few seconds before deciding he didn’t have enough information. “I think we need to find out,” he said. He turned to Mags. “Do you have one we could take to a local inn or tavern?”

“No, I don’t,” Mags said. “I have orders for modified theremins for the Society of Aural Investigators to fill.”

“We only need one,” Dietrich said.

“And just for one night,” Jason added.

Mags glared at Jason.

“Please.”

Mags released her breath in a noisy sigh. “All right. But only for one night, and I go along with you to make sure it comes back.”

“Well of course you’ll come along with us,” Dietrich said. “We need someone who knows how to set it up.”

“But not until after dinner,” Jason hastened to add. He’d already been embarrassed once by his stomach today, and he didn’t want a repeat.

“Sure, after dinner suits me, too,” Dietrich said.

“Men,” Mags muttered.

 

Later that evening

“It’s just down here,” Dietrich said over his shoulder as he led the way along the Loretánská, the main street heading west from the castle.

“Where are we going?” Jason asked. He was carrying the legs and treadle unit while Dietrich carried the theremin. Mags, of course, with two strong males to do all the heavy lifting, didn’t have to carry anything more than the three hand tools she’d need to put everything together.

Dietrich pointed. “Over there. The Black Ox.”

Jason looked at the sign hanging above the entrance. If he squinted, he thought the animal could be called an ox, and as for the color, given the light, he was willing to call it black. “How do we handle this?” he asked.

“I go in and ask Pavel if he wouldn’t mind letting us test a prototype human powered radio in his tavern.”

Jason noticed the use of the man’s Christian name. “Just how well do you know this guy?” he asked.

“Dietrich moonlights at The Black Ox as a bouncer,” Mags said.

“Ahh!” Jason had no difficulty accepting Dietrich was moonlighting as a bouncer. He lacked the solid, neckless look of the stereotypical up-time bouncer, but at over six feet and two hundred forty pounds he had a more than adequate physical presence. Add brains to that, and he was probably every bar owner’s dream bouncer—able to enforce the rules, but smart enough to know he didn’t have to actually hit people to do so. “So you don’t think there’ll be any problem?” he asked.

Dietrich shook his head. “Nope. Not unless it works so well Pavel wants to keep it.”

“What?” Mags demanded. “I thought this was just going to be a test.”

“It is,” Dietrich said, “but Pavel is running a business, and if he can have a proper radio going, he’ll get more people buying drinks.”

“We’ll cross the bridge when we come to it,” Jason said. “Meanwhile, how about getting this show on the road?”

“Sure thing,” Dietrich said, before leading the way into the tavern.

****

“Dietrich!” a swarthy man in a filthy apron called as they entered. “And you have brought friends. Please, introduce me.”

“Pavel Dusek, the proprietor of this establishment,” Dietrich said. “And these good people are Jason Cheng and his betrothed, Magdalena Rutilius.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Pavel said. He turned back to Dietrich. “So what brings you around to my humble establishment at this hour?”

Dietrich grinned. “This,” he said as he doffed the theremin radio he’d been carrying strapped to his back.

Pavel ran his eyes over the wooden box before turning back to Dietrich. His brows rose in question. “And why might I be interested in a Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Aural Detector?”

“Ahh,” Dietrich said, “but this isn’t just a Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Aural Detector. Magdalena here,” he said, gesturing towards Mags, “has managed to combine the technology of the Gribbleflotz Magneto-Etheric Aural Detector with a crystal receiver to create a human-powered radio.”

Pavel’s eyes opened wide. “A what? A radio, you say?” He took another look at the device. “Does it work?”

“Of course it works,” Jason protested. “That’s why we brought it here.”

“Actually,” Dietrich said, inserting himself between Pavel and Jason, “although we know it works in the laboratory, we don’t know how well it works in a proper working environment.” He smiled at Pavel. “We’re hoping you’ll allow us to test it.”

“And how much will this cost me?” Pavel demanded.

“Not a pfennig,” Dietrich said. “After all, you are letting us test it in your bar.”

“Although we would like your honest opinion of how good or bad it is,” Jason said.

Pavel nodded, as if understanding and accepting the conditions. “Where would you like to set it up?” he asked.

“I’ll need access to an aerial and earth,” Mags said.

Pavel nodded again as he surveyed his bar. A few seconds later he pointed towards a table set up against a wall. “Can you set it up over there?” he asked.

Mags nodded. “Come on,” she said to Dietrich and Jason. “Let’s get it up and running.”

It took only a few minutes to set up the theremin radio and connect it to the aerial and earth wires that had previously been servicing a crystal set. Then Mags started pumping the treadle. Soon the sound of Radio Prague could be heard coming from the speaker. Around them the bar quietened as customers stopped talking to listen to the radio.

“Can you make it louder?” Pavel asked.

Mags nodded and started pumping the treadle harder. The harder she pumped, the louder the radio grew.

“That’s good.” Pavel nodded approvingly. “Just keep it at that level.”

 

Some three hours later

Mags was still feeling a little confused by events when they finally arrived back at Dr. Gribbleflotz’ residence in the castle. They entered to be greeted by Frau Mittelhausen. She looked the three of them over, surely noticing the absence of the human-powered radio.

“Did Pavel like Frau Rutilius’ human powered radio,” she asked.

“He loved it,” Dietrich said.

“He loved it so much he’s paying Mags ten dollars a day to keep it,” Jason added.

“Well, of course he is,” Dietrich said. “He’ll get more than ten times that in increased custom once word gets out that he has a radio you can hear without an earpiece.”

“I thought that might happen,” Ursula said. “And no doubt, within days, other bar owners will be beating on Dr. Gribbleflotz’ door demanding he make one for them.” She smiled. “It’ll be just like the Society of Aura Investigators, except there are a lot more bars than there are investigators.” She turned to Mags. “I think you need to resign from your position with Radio Prague and start making radios full time.”

Mags stared at Frau Mittelhausen, terrified at what she’d just suggested. “But I can’t do that. I can’t afford to give up my job.”

“You will have a job, Magdalena, making radios . . .” Ursula tilted her head as she looked at Mags. “You could call your business Mags Electrical.”

“Mags Electronics would be better,” Jason said.

Mags whirled round to face Jason. “What are you talking about?” she demanded. “I can’t just quit my job at Radio Prague.”

“Sure you can.” Jason reached out and dragged Mags closer so he could hug her. “You’ve been on light duties since you broke your arm, so they’ll hardly miss you. And, Mags, you could become filthy rich. The Higgins Sewing Machine Company will have nothing on Mags Electronics. The demand for radios must outweigh the demand for sewing machines by a couple of orders of magnitude.”

Mags blinked. That certainly appealed, but she could see a major problem Jason and Frau Mittelhausen were missing. “I don’t have the money to start a business like that, and—” She turned to glare at Jason. “—don’t suggest that your parents can lend me the money.”

“Mags,” Dietrich said.

She swung round to look at her friend, who was casually leaning against the door jamb. “What?” she asked.

He gestured towards Ursula. “I think Frau Mittelhausen might be about to suggest that Dr. Gribbleflotz lend you the money.”

“Oh!” Mags swung her attention back to Frau Mittelhausen. “Dr. Gribbleflotz?” she asked.

Ursula smiled. “Dietrich is right. Not that it’ll be the doctor himself putting up the money—he has little interest in anything outside his personal lines of research—but rather the holding company that owns HDG Laboratories. And I’m not thinking of lending you the money. I think we should form a company together. You contribute the knowhow, while we provide the money for facilities, materials, labor, and of course, distribution and marketing.”

“And just how much of this company would the holding company own?” Jason asked.

“Let’s be generous and call it a measly eighty percent,” Ursula said.

“EIGHTY PERCENT?” Jason roared.

Mags turned to her boyfriend. “Settle down. That’s just an opening offer.”

“Not only are we offering startup capital, but we are also providing access to the distribution channels we already have in place for the doctor’s products,” Ursula said.

Mags nodded. “Yes, but without my knowledge, there’s no product to sell.” She ran her tongue around her lips. “I might be prepared to go as high as fifty percent.”

“Hold it!” Jason said. “How about I talk to Mom and Dad and see what they think before you sign your life away, Mags?”

“And you’ll probably want to consult a lawyer, too,” Dietrich said.

Mags glared at her two companions. They were ruining her fun with logic. She turned to Frau Mittelhausen. “I guess I’d better see what Jason’s parents think.”

“You do that,” Ursula said, “but there is no way you’re getting to keep fifty percent.”

****

Jason drifted into the inn where he and his family were staying while they were in Prague, his mind more on the prospect of Mags leaving her job at Radio Prague and returning to Grantville than on what time it was. That attitude came to a screaming halt when he stepped into the room and was confronted by his parents, his sister, and David Kitt sitting around the table playing a board game in the light of an oil lamp.

“Did you have a good time?” his father asked in a very conversational manner.

“Yes,” Jason said uneasily as he removed and hung up his coat before changing his outdoor footwear for a pair of indoor slippers. “Dietrich took us to a bar he knows.”

“I would have thought you and Mags had better things to do with your time than hang out in a public bar,” David said.

Jason grinned. “Yeah, well, normally you’d be right,” he said. “But when I got to her lodgings I discovered she’d built herself a human-powered radio. Me and Dietrich thought there might be a good market for such a thing, so we all went to a bar Dietrich knows to see how well it works in situ.”

“A human-powered radio?” Jason Sr. asked. “From what Vernon had to say, I’m sure there would be an eager market for such a thing. How does it work?”

“She’s feeding the output from a crystal radio through a theremin,” Jason said.

“Using the theremin as an amplifier.” His father shook his head ruefully. “I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of it earlier.”

“Same here,” Jason admitted. “It’s one of those things that’s so obvious once someone else has already thought of it.”

“So how well did it work in situ?”

“Really well,” Jason said. “We could hear it from the other side of the room, even with the usual noise you’d expect from a bar at night.”

“So you spent all night at a bar?” Jennie Lee asked.

Jason shook his head. “No. We had dinner first . . .”

“Why am I not surprised,” Diana muttered.

Jason ignored his sister’s sotto voce comment and continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “. . . before going to The Black Ox. We were only there for a few hours, but Frau Mittelhausen was waiting for us when we returned.” He grinned. “She wanted to know how well it worked, too. Anyway, Frau Mittelhausen thinks Mags should quit Radio Prague and go into business making them full-time. The demand is going to be astronomical. Every public house that can receive a radio signal will want one.”

“I’m sure Frau Mittelhausen is right, but there’s no way we can help Mags start such a business,” Jennie Lee said. “Kitt and Cheng Engineering has to be our first concern.”

“That’s okay, Mom,” Jason said. “Frau Mittelhausen’s suggested Mags go into business with Dr. Gribbleflotz’ parent company. Mags will be responsible for making the radios and aura detectors while she sees to everything else. She said she wanted eighty percent of the new company for the parent.” He turned to his father. “That’s a bit much, isn’t it?”

Jason Sr. nodded. “Eighty percent is more in line with what a vulture capitalist rather than a venture capitalist might demand. I wouldn’t have thought Frau Mittelhausen would demand that much.”

“I don’t think it was a demand,” Jason said. “I think it was more an opening gambit in a negotiation. Certainly that’s how Mags treated it. She came back with a counter offer of fifty percent, but I don’t think Frau Mittelhausen will go that low.”

“Mags shouldn’t make any agreement without consulting a lawyer,” Jennie Lee said.

“That’s what Dietrich said,” Jason said. He turned back to his father. “I told Mags I’d ask what you thought might be a reasonable distribution of ownership of the company.”

“That’s a tough one,” Jason Sr. said. “Let’s see,” he said, preparing to count points off on his fingers. “Mags is contributing the intellectual property, while Frau Mittelhausen, for Dr. Gribbleflotz, is offering capital and marketing.” He held up three fingers. “There are three parts to the deal, and Frau Mittlehausen is offering two of them. Maybe Mags should be prepared to let them have up to two thirds of the company.”

“But she shouldn’t make any commitment without seeing a lawyer,” Jennie Lee repeated.

“No, she shouldn’t,” Jason Sr. agreed. He turned to Jason. “When can we talk to Mags and Frau Mittlehausen?” he asked.

“I’m supposed to meet Mags after she finishes work tomorrow to go over the details.” He looked at his parents. “Can you come too?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Diana said.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Jason said.

“Children!” Jennie Lee said. “We will all be there.”

“Does that include me?” David asked.

“Sure,” Jason said. “You’re welcome to tag along.”

 

Next day, the Mihulka Tower

Mags was waiting with Frau Mittelhausen and Lips Kastenmayer, a younger brother of Dr. Gribbleflotz’ wife, when the Cheng party arrived. Mags made the introductions before leading everyone into a workroom where she had set up a theremin radio.

“That the radio?” Diana asked.

Mags smiled at Jason’s sister. “I know, it just looks like a theremin, but it works.” She looked at Jason. “Would you mind?”

“No problem,” Jason said. He walked over to the theremin and started pumping the treadle.

The sound of Radio Prague started to emerge from the speaker and everyone stood quietly and listened for a few minutes.

“That’s enough, Jason,” Jason Sr. said. He waited for the radio to fall silent before speaking again.

“So, Mags, we hear you’re planning on quitting your job with Radio Prague to start your own business?”

Mags sighed and looked appealingly at Jason. “I want to, but Frau Mittelhausen can’t see any role for Jason.”

“Don’t you worry about me, Mags. Mom and dad are planning a major expansion at Kitt and Cheng Engineering, and I’ll be part of that.”

“Really?” Mags asked, darting glances to Jason’s parents.

“Really,” Jennie Lee said.

“Yes,” Jason Sr. said. “You might think you’ve invented a radio, but what you’ve really done is created the basis of a new sound reproduction industry, and Kitt and Cheng Engineering intends being in on the ground floor supplying you with all the components you’re going to need.”

“One moment,” Ursula Mittelhausen said. “What do you mean by a sound reproduction industry?”

“Mags’ radio just connects a radio signal to an amplifier in the theremin,” Jason said. “Well, there are plenty of things that can use that same amplifier. We did a bit of brainstorming earlier, and came up with a few things Mags could add to her production line.

“In addition to the aura detectors and radios, there are also record players and public announcement systems,” Jason Sr. said.

“Also sound systems for performers,” David said. He mimed playing an electric guitar and smiled at Mags. “That was my idea.”

Mags winced at that. She’d heard David playing his electric guitar before, and she didn’t think the world was ready for that noise. “Fortunately, you’ll have to be your own power source, limiting you to twenty or so watts.”

David clasped his hands to his heart. “You wound me. My music is brilliant, and the louder the better. Which is why your boyfriend and I want to borrow one of your spare theremins so we can experiment with installing a glow plug engine to spin the Alexander Alternator.”

“I don’t have any spare theremins.” She gestured to the one across the room that she’d used to demonstrate her radio. “That one belongs to a member of the Society of Aural Investigators.”

“That’s okay,” Jason said. “Dad’s happy for David and I helping you build some more.”

“We’re going to need to take a couple back to Grantville with us for development work,” Jason Sr. said.

“Is your company going to be competing against Mags’ company?” Lips asked.

“No.” It was a resounding declaration from all four of the Chengs and David Kitt. For a moment they smiled at each other before Jason Sr. took charge. “We’re happy just helping design peripherals and making components for Mags’ company. We’re even happier to leave her company to put them together and worry about marketing.”

 

October, 1636, Prague

Vernon Fritz was once again conducting an unofficial survey of radio reception and listener satisfaction around Prague. He was walking down the same street he’d been walking down on his first monthly survey thirty days previously when he noticed a crowd gathering around the entrance to one of the many public houses that lined the street. Curious to see what had them gathering around the bar he approached.

As he got closer he was sure he could hear the current broadcast from Radio Prague emanating from the open door. He checked the portable crystal set he was wearing and confirmed that the sound was from Radio Prague. He increased his pace and quickly arrived at the door, where he forced his way in.

The room was crowded with men sitting at tables chatting quietly while they drank or ate. In the background was the sound of Radio Prague. He had questions to find answers to and glanced around the barroom, seeking the barkeep.

The bar owner met Vernon’s eyes and hurried towards him. “The man from Radio Prague,” he said as he reached out a hand to Vernon. “You have come to admire my new radio. It is one of the new Gribbleflotz Ethereal Plenitude Auricular Amplificators.” The man smiled at Vernon. “I told you Dr. Gribbleflotz would find a solution.”

****

Drumline

drumline-banner

Magdeburg

July 1636

 

Friedrich von Logau stuck his head into his friend Johann Gronow’s office.  Hmm.  Not here.  But his door had been left open, so he must be out for just a moment and should be back soon.  So he entered the office to wait for Johann, taking a seat in the visitor’s chair that sat in front of the large table that Johann used as a desk.

dlnblckctIt amused Friedrich that his friend was the editor in chief of The Black Tomcat magazine.  It was primarily dedicated to translating and reprinting the stories of the up-time authors H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, introducing horror fiction to the down-timers.  And so far, it was gathering quite a following.  It also appeared to be on its way to being a financial success, since it had recently shifted from a quarterly publishing schedule to a bimonthly schedule.

Personally, Friedrich didn’t have much use for horror fiction.  He was a man of letters himself, but the so-called horror genre raised no excitement in him.  However, Johann had started branching out a little, running new stories by down-time writers who were experimenting with some of the up-time styles, and some of those stories were actually pretty good in Friedrich’s estimation, given how new some of the styles really were.

Johann’s desk was certainly stacked high with envelopes and folders, so it appeared he had no lack of new material to review.  Curious, Friedrich reached over and picked up the top folder from a very tall stack, flipped it open, and began reading.

****

 

DRUMLINE

By Kirby Hoggenboom

 

Austria

1638

 

BOOM  boom  boom  boom

BOOM  boom  boom  boom

BOOM  boom  boom  boom

The slow throbbing pulse of what was almost thunder carried to the ears of Ibrahim Pasha.  He looked up from his discussions with his generals.  “In the name of the Merciful and the Benevolent, what is that noise?”

At that moment, a janissary officer pushed through the crowd.  He hurried through the genuflections and salutations, then said, “Your Excellency, you must come see this!  Quickly, please, before it changes.”

dlnjnnsrsJanissary officers were not given much to excitement or frenzy or panic, yet this man’s conduct bordered on all three.  And so Ibrahim Pasha, commander of the advance guard of the invading army of the Ottoman Empire, curious now to see what could have evoked such behavior in such a hard man, followed him to the crest of a rise.

Before Ibrahim lay the city of Vienna, capital and erstwhile crown jewel of the Holy Roman Empire.  The Turkish advance body had arrived but an hour or so earlier.  The light infantry were still spreading across the environs, searching for traps and redoubts.

BOOM  boom  boom  boom

BOOM  boom  boom  boom

BOOM  boom  boom  boom

The slow thunder was coming from the city walls.  But the janissary officer and his fellows were pointing at the base of the wall, at the city gate facing them.  Troops were issuing from the gate.  Ibrahim held his hand out.  “Telescope.”  Abdullah, his chief slave, drew a fine ivory and gold-chased telescope from his satchel and placed it in his master’s hand.

Ibrahim extended the telescope, placed it to his eye, and adjusted it with the ease of long practice.  He surveyed the scene carefully, from the gate to the banks of huge drums on top of the wall and back again.  “Musicians,” he grunted.  Other officers were now looking through their own scopes and making comments of their own.

“Must be a hundred of them.”

“No, more like two hundred.”

The pasha let the argument wash around him as he continued to watch.  He’d thought at first the leading ranks through the gates were carrying some strange kind of musket.  The intelligence from Western Europe indicated many changes in arms were occurring there.  But as the succeeding ranks followed he realized the first ranks were carrying strangely formed trumpets.  They were followed by other kinds of horns, all larger—some much larger—than the trumpets.  The horns marched out and formed a large square.  Then they were followed by ranks of drummers, carrying drums of many sizes and types, but all silent, all marching to the beat of the drums on the wall.  They split into two companies that formed up on either side of the horns.  At the last, two men came out through the ranks.  One set up some kind of platform or ladder, and the other, carrying what looked to be something like a half-pike, climbed up on it.

BOOM  boom  boom  boom

BOOM  boom  boom  boom

BOOM  boom  boom  boom

BOOM

The cessation of noise from the wall was so sudden that those around the vizier were still shouting their responses to questions before they noticed the lack.  Ibrahim focused on the man with the pike.  The pike was raised.  When it came down, the music began.

****

dlntrmptJohn Daniels felt the hair on the back of his neck and on his head begin to stand erect as the massed trumpets sang out the opening notes of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”  It never failed to spook him when that piece began.  It was the only piece of music that could make him wish he had stayed with trumpet instead of switching to tuba in eighth grade.  The “tube” was a great and cool instrument, and he could make it do just about everything except clean the kitchen sink.  But for this piece, for these opening notes, only trumpets would do.  Copland got that part right.

When Frank Jackson had called him and Steve Smith in for a conference that night in early 1635, who would have thought it would have led to detached duty in Vienna, Austria!  Creating a military band, no less.  But here he was.

John and Steve had flipped a coin to see who would lead this “performance,” and Steve won.  That was okay, really.  John loved playing this piece, even if this time he was lead tuba over 40 of the beasts, instead of a solo in a small ensemble.

Here came his cue.  John sucked in a deep breath and leaned into his mouthpiece.

****

Ibrahim stood, almost transfixed as the horns sounded forth.  He had never heard anything like that music before.  It was loud, it was brassy, but it sounded so different from the Turkish bands, so . . . beautiful.  That was not a word he would apply to the musicians of the army or their music.  He wanted to close his eyes and just soak in the sound.  If it was this strong at this distance, what was it like up close?  It took some discipline to keep his eye open and viewing through the telescope.  Nothing else was happening that he could see.  No armed troops had made appearances or were sneaking around while they were distracted by the music.

An officer came up beside him and started to speak.  The pasha lowered the telescope long enough to skewer the fool with a glare, then resumed it.  His vision was drawn back to the musicians as the music crested, and crested, and crested with the trumpets sounding a very high and clear note that even from where he stood was penetrating.  

The man with the pike thrust it straight up, and the great drums on the wall answered with a roll of what could only be deep thunder.  He brought his other hand around in a sweeping circle.  The horns stopped playing, and the drum groups beside them began.  When added to the sound from the wall, it was as if a great thunderhead had come down to ground level.

Ibrahim continued to watch as the horns did an about face and marched off the field.  The man with the pike lowered it finally.  The drums on the wall stopped sounding, but those on the field began performing the most complicated patterns and sounds he had ever witnessed.

****

Steve hot-footed it off the field between the drum lines.  He had been extremely uncomfortable out there with his back to the Turks, but it had been worth it to thumb his nose at them musically.

In retrospect, although the last months had seemed crazy at times, with everything that had to be done in crafting the different kinds of drums, and them teaching people to play them, it had really been a lot of fun.  And how many high school graduates ever got to build a band and drum corps from the ground up, like he and John had done?  What a trip!  He’d even gotten used to the sound of skin heads instead of plastic ones.

Now, if only someone would figure out an easy way to re-tune the heads when the humidity made them stretch a little.

****

The drums were marching off the field after their amazing spectacle.  The pasha lowered his telescope as the drums on the wall began a thundering cadence, one almost as intricate as what the field drums had played.  He collapsed the telescope and tapped it against the palm of his other hand.  The last half an hour had stunned him, and he struggled to regain his thoughts.

One thing came to him almost immediately.  “Our bands are to be silent.  No music will be played in the camp or in the field.  We will not be compared to . . . that.”

Ibrahim looked around.  “What are we to draw from this?”  He looked around.  The generals or subordinate officers wore varying expressions of boredom, distaste, or intrigue, but no one said anything.  He looked finally at Abdullah, chief slave of his household and one time tutor to a much younger Ibrahim.  Abdullah met his gaze directly, raising an eyebrow, by which he let it be known he did have some comment to make.

“Speak, Abdullah.”

“They knew we were coming.”

“Of course they knew we were coming.  We haven’t exactly made a secret of our approach.”  That was one of the generals, and his voice dripped sarcasm.

Abdullah ignored the general, continuing to focus on Ibrahim.  “Think, young master.”  

Ibrahim ignored the muttering behind him.  The old slave’s reversion to the title he had called his master when they were both much younger cast the pasha’s mind back to those lessons in rhetoric, arithmetic, and logic.

Logic.  What had Abdullah seen in the presentation that he hadn’t?  His eyes narrowed as he reviewed the vision through the telescope:  the intricacies, the instruments, the movements, the uniforms, the planning . . .

The planning.  It all came together in his mind in that instant.  His eyes now widened, and Abdullah nodded as he saw the comprehension dawn in his master’s eyes.

“Yes, master.  This was not put in train in the mere weeks since we began our gathering and our march.  This has been in progress for months, perhaps years, to ripen and culminate at this time.”

Ibrahim’s thoughts whirled.  The expense of the instruments, the uniforms, the training, the manpower, the expense even of the time; Abdullah was right.  This was part of a master plan.

He turned and looked at Vienna.  If this was what they did for music, what other surprises were contained behind the city walls?  What else did that master planner have waiting as his next stratagem?

****

Friedrich turned the page over, ready for the rest of the story, only to discover that it was the last page in the folder.  He flipped through the other pages, looking for something he might have overlooked.  Nothing else there.

Just at that moment Johann Gronow bustled back into his office.  “Friedrich!  What are you doing here?”

“I came by to offer to buy a round of coffee at Walcha’s Coffee Shop,” Friedrich said, “but you weren’t here.”

“I had to run down to Zopff and Sons, the printers, to look at a second round of proofs for the next issue of Black Tomcat,” Johann said as he dropped into his chair behind the table.  “It was just supposed to take a few minutes, but old man Zopff got to talking and it took me the longest time to get away.”

“Your office door was open when I got here,” Friedrich said.

Johann frowned.  “I must not have shut it securely when I walked out.”  He looked around.  “Doesn’t look like anything has been bothered.”

Friedrich snorted.  “How would you tell?”  They both chuckled at that, then Friedrich continued with, “No one was here when I arrived, and I’ve been here a while.”  He lifted the folder he was holding.  “Read this while I was waiting.  Not bad, Johann, not bad.  But where’s the rest of it?”

Johann stood and reached across the table to retrieve the folder, then resumed his seat and opened the folder.  His face twisted.  “That’s all I got.  It came in the mail that way.  It’s not enough to publish, but the author only gave his name.  No address information, no contact information, nothing but what you see there.  Despite the submission instructions we put on the last page of every issue of the magazine, we get stuff all sorts of ways in all sorts of formats.  It’s enough to make me pull my hair out some days.”

“If this . . . what’s the outlandish name the author gave?”

Johann looked at the first page of the story.  “Kirby Hoggenboom.  And that’s got to be a nom de plume if I ever saw one.  Mishmash of an up-time name and a down-time name from the Netherlands, I think.”

“So you don’t even know if that’s the author’s real name.”

Johann got a sour look on his face.  “No, I don’t.  And anyway, I have a feeling that this is a collaboration.”

Friedrich arched one eyebrow in a query.

“The ideas are very up-timer, but the command of the language is very down-timer, and an educated down-timer at that.”

“Ah.” Friedrich considered what he had read.  “Yes, I think I see what you mean.”

Before their conversation progressed any farther, their mutual friend Karl Seelbach, another of their writers’ circle, burst into Johann’s office.

“Johann!  Have you heard?  Hello, Friedrich.”  Seelbach was hanging onto the doorframe, almost panting.

“Heard what?”

“The Turks have arrived at Vienna and have begun their assault.”

Both Johann and Friedrich sat back, stunned for the moment.  Then they both looked at the story folder that Johann was still holding and began to laugh.  Seelbach looked at them in disbelief.

“Well, Herr Hoggenboom, whoever and wherever you are, your story has just been rendered unpublishable by the changing tide of current events,” Friedrich intoned.

“Ja,” Johann agreed.  “Too bad.  I would have published it, if I could have gotten the rest of the story.”  He turned and set the folder on the credenza behind him.  “Karl, come on in and sit down.  We’ll talk about politics when we go to Walcha’s.  For now, tell me what you think of these stories,” and he handed two different folders to his two friends.

Friedrich opened his with a sense of anticipation.

Greetings!

greetings-banner

Early Spring, 1633

Under most circumstances, Harley Thomas was an even-tempered man—slow to get riled and slow to cool down. It was early morning, before dawn, as he peered into the steamed mirror. He wiped a final trace of beard from his face. The harsh lye soap caused the small cuts to sting. He rinsed the straight razor and dried it carefully.

He stepped out of the bathroom after wiping his face a final time. The movement triggered a deep ache in his left knee. He had jumped from a C-130 over South Carolina thirty years ago and had landed in a tree ending a promising, or so he thought, military career. The knee was proof to Harley, now in his late fifties, that old injuries always came back to haunt you.

g-scndchncvstHe glanced at his watch and picked up the Second Chance vest from the bed and strapped it on over his heavy undershirt. This model extended below the belt line. It was somewhat uncomfortable while on horseback, but it had an upside; it protected his kidneys. With the vest firmly in place, he reached, out of habit, for his army shirt.

He caught himself in time and chose, instead, his old faded blue Marion County Deputy Sheriff uniform shirt. After the Ring of Fire, he was only a part-time law enforcement officer when not on active duty with the National Guard. Due to the lack of supply of Grantville PD shirts, the Chief had agreed that he could wear his old uniform shirt with its USA flag embroidered on the left sleeve and pewter-colored Corporal chevrons on the collar points and retain the title of  Deputy Sheriff. Harley had discovered that down-timers viewed a police officer as nothing more than the equivalent of a down-time watchman. Sheriff deputies, on the other hand, were held in higher esteem. The title of Deputy Sheriff helped when dealing with down-timers and the minor nobility.

A Marion County Deputy Sheriff badge was pinned above the shirt’s left breast pocket. He tucked ithe shirt into his jeans, slipped his suspender straps over his shoulders, and moved to the dresser beside the bed.

On the dresser was his service pistol, a worn blue Government model Colt .45, three loaded magazines, a gunbelt and holsters for the pistol and magazines. He threaded the gunbelt through the belt loops on his jeans, through the leather holster, shifting the holster slightly to make sure it rode just to the rear of his right hip and attached a dual magazine holster containing two magazines on the belt opposite of the holster. With two pounds of steel on one hip and two loaded magazines on the other, a pair of handcuffs looped over his belt in the back, he needed both belt and suspenders to support the weight.

It’s time to go.

Dressed for the day, Harley left the bedroom and walked toward the kitchen in the rear of the house. He could hear his wife, Vina, talking with their down-timer neighbor, Greta Issler, and Harley’s mother, Emma Lou. Vina and Greta worked in the day care center and helped as needed at the hospital and at Grantville Assisted Living Center.

Emma Lou sat at the kitchen table sipping from her favorite glazed mug watching and listening; she was learning German slowly. Greta was a good teacher, but a lifetime of speaking English made learning a new language difficult for Emma Lou.

Vina was kneading bread dough when Harley entered the kitchen. Greta has been teaching her how to make bread and buns in exchange for the use of the Thomases’ electric oven. The heat from the stove and oven filled the room along with the aroma of baking bread.

Greta and her husband, Dieter, had been born in Vienna—Greta to a family of bakers and Dieter to a family that bought and sold glassware. Dieter had been a glassware factor in Magdeburg but when Tilly approached, they fled—eventually finding their way to Grantville and becoming permanent residents.

“Herr Alte Thomas was better yesterday,” Greta said in German referring to Harley’s father living in the Assisted Living Center. His time appeared to be measured now that the supporting drugs had been withdrawn. It was a difficult decision to make. Doctors Adams and Nichols had sent a plea to the residents and relatives of those living in Assisted Living Manor asking that a portion of the life supporting drugs be set aside for emergencies. The elder Thomas had volunteered. He, Emma Lou, Harley, and Vina had talked long into the night after the plea. Vina had felt that it was almost like asking someone to commit suicide. She also knew that when the drugs ran out there would be no refills. The result would be the same with the only difference being how much time Harley’s father had. After much discussion and turmoil, Emma Lou and Harley agreed with the senior Thomas. Vina had quit arguing against it but Harley knew she would never agree. The decision had built a barrier between her and her husband, and Harley knew it would be a long time before it would come down.

“His heart seems to be stronger. Our German air helps his breathing.”

As Harley entered the kitchen, Greta asked, “Are you riding today?”  She referred to Harley’s occasional horseback patrols at the behest of  Dan Frost as riding. Vena refused to look at Harley wearing his old Deputy Sheriff uniform shirt. Harley was home on furlough from the National Guard now that another class had graduated from basic training. She knew he would have to return soon. Dan Frost had no right! Harley already has a job.

Ja. Max, Archie, Dieter, and I are going to a place near Rudolstadt. There’s been some thieving and some of the villagers have been knifed. They appealed to the count’s man in Rudolstadt who passed the buck to Dan Frost who asked Max, Archie, Dieter, and me to check it out.”

“Will you be home for supper?” Vina asked sharply. She had flour coating her arms halfway to her elbows. At some point she’d unknowingly deposited some flour on her forehead and cheek.

“I think so, if Dan doesn’t come up with something else.”

“Good!  We’re having several folks for supper; it’s our turn for the neighborhood potluck. Greta has made turnip soup, and I’m adding some sausage.”

“Here’s some willow-bark tea to get you going, Herr Thomas,” Greta said handing him a mug. Harley had grown used to the tea, bitter as it was. It wasn’t coffee nor the tea he was used to but it did help to dull the pain in his knee. He had heard rumors that someone was trying to get tea imported. That would be welcome if it came to pass.

“Dieter left to get the horses saddled. He said he would meet you at the stables,” she added.

Harley nodded his thanks and sipped the hot tea. I think I’d kill for a mug of plain old Lipton tea. He and Vina had grown to prefer hot brewed tea rather than coffee since their return from Europe and his discharge from the Army. A long time ago now.

“Do you want to take some willow-bark tea with you?”  Emma Lou asked.

“No, thank you. My knee will be fine.”  Harley finished his tea and set the mug next to the kitchen sink. He hoped willow-bark tea would be half as good as up-time aspirin.

His jacket and scarf hung next to the back door. He wrapped the scarf around his neck, tucked the ends inside the front of his shirt and slipped on the thick nylon jacket with “Marion County Sheriff’s Office” printed across the back.

Harley, along with Archie Mitchell and Max Huffman, had been reserve deputies until the Ring of Fire. Now, he helped train recruits for the Army and train those who would be trainers. When home from the National Guard, he and the others helped Dan Frost as needed.

Keeps me out of the house, he thought. He retrieved his weathered blue trooper’s hat and its blue plastic weather cover and placed it on his head instead of his usual army headgear. Everyone seemed to have multiple roles since their arrival in Germany. Today, he was a deputy sheriff. Next month, he would be a DI, a drill instructor, again. He retrieved his M1 Garand rifle leaning next to the door, a relic older than he was, and picked up his saddlebags loaded with other outdoor essentials, emergency kit, extra ammo, canteens, and enough trail food for three days.

With the saddle bags over a shoulder, Harley walked through the kitchen door, across the back porch and down the steps to the alley that led towards the center of town, cradling the M1 and keeping alert in the darkness as he walked toward the city stables. The residents of Grantville had learned the hard way that when you needed a gun, you needed it quickly. Now, most homes in Grantville had at least one firearm always loaded and near-at-hand.

****

The other two reserve deputies, Max Huffman and Archie Mitchell, were in their late fifties like Harley. The three had agreed to work for Dan Frost when not on duty with the National Guard. They had worked together for years before the Ring of Fire and Dan Frost had decided they could help best by riding mounted patrols on the outskirts of the Ring and in the neighboring communities. Some of the neighboring towns and villages quickly took advantage of Grantville’s offer of mutual assistance. Whenever trouble appeared, they asked for help without hesitation. Harley, Max, and Archie were all combat veterans and weren’t intimidated by marauding packs of outlaws.

Dieter Issler had joined the Grantville Police last fall initially as an interpreter. Dieter spoke passable English with Polish and Italian thrown in as well. In his early thirties, Dieter most often rode with the three deputies acquiring on-the-job law enforcement skills while performing his translator duties.

Harley spoke twentieth-century German. Max and Archie didn’t. They were learning, but that didn’t help them in the here and now. Dieter called the three Deputies, Die Drei Alten Soldaten, or the three old soldiers. From Dieter’s perspective, that is what the three Deputies were. They didn’t act like any city Watchmen Dieter knew.

Max, Dieter, and Archie were already mounted when Harley arrived. The horses were now owned by the police department. Horses were more appropriate along the edge and outside of the Ring of Fire where roads were not well maintained or didn’t exist.

Harley slid his Garand into the scabbard on the remaining horse and mounted while the three waited. Like Harley, the two other deputies wore Marion County Sheriff jackets and blue trooper hats, and each was armed with a rifle and pistol. Archie would have liked to have had a pump or autoloading shotgun but those had been given to the National Guard. Dieter carried one of Harley’s spare pistols and a twenty-inch double barreled coach shotgun in his saddle scabbard. Good for close work but Dieter couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a rifle.

“Any more information?” he asked ignoring a sharp stab of pain from his left knee as he mounted the horse.

Max saw the sudden wince in Harley’s face. “You should mount from the other side Harley,” he said. Receiving no answer, he continued, “It appears to be a gang. They broke into some houses and a mill. Looking for food and loot, I suppose. Beat up the miller pretty good but he’ll live. They killed a villager while leaving the mill so they’ve been given outlaw status. They would have anyway for stealing food. The count’s man, Helmut Reinart, thinks there are four or five of them.”

“That’s not much more than what Dan told me last night. Well, let’s go. Vina and I are the hosts for the neighborhood potluck tonight and she wants me home for supper. They can’t wait if I’m late.”

“What are you having?”  Archie asked.

“Turnip soup and sausage.”

Glancing at Dieter, Archie leaned towards Harley and whispered, “Do you want to eat with Marjorie and me?  We’re having some leftover pig from the last boar hunt and Marjorie still has some potatoes from last summer’s garden.”

“No,” Harley said softly. “Vina sets great store in this. I’ll never hear the end of it if I don’t have a good reason for not showing up. She’s adding the last of my homemade steak sauce to the mix. That’ll help and Greta is baking some fresh bread and buns. They were fixing something when I left the house. Vina was telling Greta about doughnuts and cinnamon rolls, so I hope there is something special tonight.”

The throb in his knee was lessening. He kicked his heels in the horse’s flanks and headed down the street towards Route 250 with the others following behind.

This wasn’t the first time the four had been sent out to help the neighboring towns when the local watchmen had more than they could handle. The mutual assistance agreements had significantly increased the good will being built between Grantville and their neighbors. Sometimes a small effort paid big dividends, and Grantville needed friendly and cooperative neighbors. As they rode down the road in the early morning gloom, Max muttered, “I feel like I’m in a western. A bunch of sheriff’s deputies riding out to catch bad guys. Where’s my white hat?”

“Shut up, Max!”  Archie said. “You say that every time we ride out. It’s getting old.”

****

The deputies and Dieter rode down Route 250 past the high school. Foot traffic appeared, walking toward Grantville in twos and threes. Some were heading for the school, some towards the mine on the southwest side of town and others to jobs in Grantville or at the power plant beyond. By dawn, the three had reached the edge, leaving the up-time highway and riding up the graded, graveled ramp to the dirt road that continued to the junction of the Saalfeld and Rudolstadt road. The right turnoff went to Saalfeld, the left to Rudolstadt. They turned left.

g-rdlsttThey reached Rudolstadt by mid-morning and dismounted at the edge of the small town that backed up to the castle walls to give some rest and relief to the horses. The four continued on foot, leading the horses by their reins. They might need those horses fresh depending on what they discovered at the crime scene.

Rudolstadt looked much like the small German towns he and Vina had visited during Harley’s Army tour in Europe–narrow streets lined with well-kept houses. The street led towards the center of town where the town hall and central marketplace were located. The empty houses were being occupied again with residents returning now that the threat from Tilly’s marauders was gone.

The town hall was the largest building outside the castle walls. It sat on the edge of the main plaza where a few vendors were setting up their kiosks and products for sale. Today was market day. Most of the locals preferred to remain inside against the rain that the gray, threatening clouds had not yet delivered. From the Town Hall, they proceeded through Rudolstadt heading for the Saale River waterfront and up the river to the mill. The message sent to Grantville said that is where they would be met.

The mill was built on the bank of the river and powered by a water wheel. A large wooden building that appeared to be a warehouse was next to the mill, separated by a narrow alley. The mill serviced a number of small villages around Rudolstadt as well as the castle. The count’s man and a Rudolstadt watchman were waiting.

“Hello, Herr Reinart,” Harley said as he approached to two waiting men. “I am Deputy Sheriff Thomas. This is Deputy Sheriff Mitchell, Deputy Sheriff Huffman, and our assistant, Dieter Issler.”

“Hello, Deputy Thomas,” Reinart replied. “You arrived quickly. Herr Polizeichef Frost said he would send his best deputies.”  He ignored Dieter.

Dieter was giving Max and Archie a running translation of Harley’s conversation with Reinart. Harley noticed the snub to Dieter but chose to let it pass. Grantville needed good relations with Rudolstadt. “What happened, Herr Reinart?”

“Four, maybe five men were discovered stealing flour and grain early yesterday morning by the miller. He lives here at the mill with his family. A villager from Debra was approaching from further up the river road when he heard the miller’s wife screaming. He was running to the mill when he was surprised by the bandits as he came around the corner here,” Reinart said, pointing to the entrance of the alley between the warehouse and the mill. “The outlaws ambushed him. He gave us a description of them before he died. The miller’s description is the same. The miller was badly beaten and was cut in a few places but has no serious injuries.”

The Rudolstadt watchman spoke for the first time. “Meine Herren, I am Watchman Werner Anthross. We have a description of four men of middle age; mid-thirties the miller estimates. Three wore front and back armor and carried at least one pistol each. The fourth was more poorly dressed, no armor and he carried an ax. I found tracks heading upriver along the river bank.”

And you didn’t go any further, did you? Harley thought. Town watchmen weren’t eager to venture far from their home town. They wanted overwhelming numbers if they were going to get into a fight. A single watchman couldn’t do much by himself. Getting killed wasn’t a part of his job description.

Archie and Dieter went off to speak with the miller and his wife while Max examined the scene. The morning thaw had left a layer of mud over still frozen earth. Too many people had trodden through the alley. Any attempt to distinguish the outlaws’ tracks from the civilians’ was impossible.

Harley asked the watchman, “How far from here did you track them?”

“Up the river to the place where a stream enters the river. The tracks continued up the stream.”

“You didn’t go any further?”

Nein. I came back to report to Herr Reinart and he sent for you.”

****

Max and Harley met Archie and Dieter on their return from speaking with the miller. The miller hadn’t provided any new information.

“How do you want to handle this, Harley?”  Archie asked. “You can’t walk far with that knee of yours.”

Harley grimaced momentarily. It was embarrassing that his knee was an issue. All three of them were getting a little old for this kind of business. They couldn’t always use Dieter as a bird dog to walk point. He didn’t have the experience. Most of the younger folks were joining the Army or one of the ambassadorial teams. Harley had his bad leg. He suspected that Max had a heart condition, but Max hadn’t said anything. Archie had an ulcer and had lost over forty pounds in the last year. Of course, Archie said that he had the weight to spare, and that was true.

Dan Frost needed a younger deputy, and Dieter was the best candidate he had. Today may be the day for his promotion. The decision had been left up to them. They were the best judges to determine if, or when, Dieter was ready.

“Let’s do it this way, flush and sit. Archie, you and Dieter follow the trail. Let’s use this as an opportunity to give Dieter some training. Max and I will ride outside of the trees that line the streambed, out of the brush, and see if we come across any tracks. If we do, I’ll send Max back to get you with your horses. If we don’t find any tracks, Max and I will set an ambush in case you flush them out. If you hear us shooting, lie low until you’re sure they aren’t coming back your way. I don’t want you to try to nab them by yourself.”

“Shoot, Harley, I’m not that stupid. I’ve kept my hide intact all these years, and I’m not gonna change that now,” Archie replied. With that, Archie retrieved his rifle, canteen, and pack from the horse. Nodding to Dieter, he said, “Dieter, tell this watchman to show me these tracks and where he stopped.”  Dieter spoke to the watchman who, with an acknowledging nod, turned and walked off down the alley with Max and Dieter following behind.

“Herr Reinart, we’ll see what we can find,”  Harley said.

Danke schön. I’ll have Watchman Anthross waiting here for you. He can find me if you need me.”

Harley and Max mounted their horses and, each leading one of the two riderless horses, followed Archie, Dieter, and the watchman down the alley.

“Look, Max. You can see how that creek cuts back from the river.”  Harley pointed to a distant line of trees that ran from the river to the northwest. The ground close to the river had the glimmer of ice, unmelted among the leafless trees. “It looks like there is a slough down there. Those outlaws won’t stay there. It’s too wet. Let’s run up along that tree line to the ridge and see if they came out.”

The two deputies rode toward the ridge in the distance, leaving the Watchman standing near the edge of the trees along the river. Archie and Dieter were not in sight. When Max and Harley rode off, the watchman turned and walked back toward the mill. His task was over. Now, he just had to wait.

Max and Harley rode slowly, listening, watching. “Ya think Dieter is ready?” Max asked.

“Yeah, I think so. I’ve been watching him. He’s learning and thinking before he jumps. If he does well today, I’ll tell Dan to promote him.”

“I agree. So does Archie. We talked about it this morning.”

They rode a bit further when Max said, “I’ve still got my Sheriff’s Association card . . .”

“Really? I’ve lost mine.”

“Well, I was thinking we ought to give him something. It was just an idea . . .”

“I like it. You can give it to him if he doesn’t screw up. Tell him it’s his deputy membership card,” Harley said with a chuckle. “It’ll do until we can come up with something more official. A certificate, maybe.”

“Will do.”

****

The threat of rain was ending. The clouds were rising allowing the morning mist to thin, making visibility easier.

“I wish we had some radios, Max. I don’t like using them as bird dogs, but neither of us could do it.”

Max glanced at Harley quickly but didn’t say anything.

They rode slowly, watching the ground and the surrounding terrain. There were tracks in a number of places, human and animal, but they were weathered; obviously more than a day old. The further they rode, the higher the ground rose until they reached the top of the ridge around mid-day. There, they found a footpath leaving the lower trees and leading over the ridge to continue towards a cluster of buildings in the distance. Those structures appeared to be a small satellite farming village that supported Rudolstadt castle and the town. Along the path were one . . . two . . . three . . . four pair of tracks heading for the village and not over a day old.

Was this Debra? He checked the map he carried. The distant buildings were in the right place to be Debra but he expected to see more people about if it were Debra. Didn’t matter really, so many small villages had been abandoned while armies marched back and forth.

“Max,” Harley ordered, “ride back along the tree line and find Archie and Dieter. I’m going to follow these tracks a bit, but I’ll wait for you. You get them and follow me as quickly as you can.”

“All right, but don’t go far, you old fart!  Vina’d skin me if I let something happen to you.”

“Get going, I’m just going over the ridge to the other side—don’t henpeck me. You aren’t equipped.”

Grinning, Max rode back toward the line of trees with the reins of the two horses in hand. Harley swung his leg forward over the pommel and slid to the ground. It was easier dismounting this way. Surprisingly, his leg was not hurting; maybe the willow-bark tea worked!

The ground was leaf-covered, masking the mud underneath. With the reins in hand, Harley followed the tracks. On the other side of the ridge, the tracks continued towards the distant buildings.

Harley took a pair of binoculars from his saddlebags and steadied them on the back of his horse while he examined the buildings approximately half a mile away. A plume of smoke arose from one, the white smoke of a wood fire. A door opened on the side of the building, and a man stepped out, walked around to the rear of the house, and disappeared.

Someone’s home.

There was an old, leafless oak not far off the path at the edge of a grove of smaller trees. Harley led his horse into the trees and tied its reins to a sapling. He gave the horse enough slack so that it could graze a little from the sparse ground cover. Finishing that task, he retrieved his ground cloth, rifle, canteen, and a sack from his saddlebags and spread the ground cloth behind the old oak tree and sat down. He was close enough to see if anyone came down the path but far enough off of it to be difficult to be seen. He crossed his legs, pulled some jerky from the sack, chewed off a strip, and settled down to watch the farmhouse.

****

Harley continued to watch. His rifle lay across his thighs, and his elbows propped on his knees as he peered through the binoculars. He’d counted at least three different people moving around the buildings—performing what appeared to be innocuous tasks. The larger structure was similar to some of the houses in Rudolstadt, two stories high with the lower story and foundation made of bricks or stone, large enough to house a couple of families. The upper story appeared to be wooden with strong wooden trusses framing the exterior and coated with mud or plaster that had dried to the consistency of cement. The sidings and roof were either slate or wooden shake.

He could see a door and several shuttered windows on this side and suspected there might be other doors on the far side. Smoke continued to rise from the chimney.

The other buildings appeared to be older. One was open on one side and appeared to have been a stable at one time. The other looked more like a barn. A low stone fence encircled the three buildings. The view to Rudolstadt was blocked by another tree-covered ridge.

While Harley was mulling over his observations, he heard movement on the path coming from his rear. It was probably Max with Archie and Dieter but it never hurt to take precautions. He picked up the M1 and moved further behind the oak tree. From here, he could easily see the path and have good cover for defense if necessary. He had one eight-round clip in the rifle, two more clips in a small pouch strapped to the stock, and a fourth in his jacket pocket. Thirty-two 30.06 rounds should suffice against four outlaws with single-shot pistols or matchlocks.

As the sounds grew closer, he could see three horses and riders approaching on the path. It was Max and the others. A quick low whistle alerted them as he stood up.

****

“See what you think of this,” Harley said. The four had crawled up the ridge until they could see the buildings without being seen. A stiff breeze had risen from the west, ruffling the weeds and their hair and adding a tint of windburn to their faces. A faint smell of wood smoke arrived with the wind. The view across the way had cleared. The noontime sun had burned off the morning fog.

The ridgeline dropped down into a small valley with a half-filled creek at the bottom. The area between the trees along the ridge, down to the creek and up towards the farm, was open land that had been farmed at some time. The far slope rising towards the house was creased with deep gullies—the evidence of heavy erosion.

“Max, you and Dieter go down along the left, cross the creek, and approach through the gullies. Dieter, you take the front of the farmhouse, and, Max, you watch the back and those stables. Archie and I will sneak down the right to that grove of trees, cross the creek there, and approach the house from the opposite side. I’ll join Dieter at the front, and Archie will cover the barn and the right side of the farmhouse. When Dieter and I knock on the front door, they will probably bolt out the back. That’s where you and Max will be waiting for them. If they don’t take off, Dieter and I will go through the front door, and the two of you come in the back. That should sandwich them between us.”

Neither Max nor Archie cared for this approach. The three of them had been trained for SWAT entrances. Dieter hadn’t. “Harley,” Max said, “Archie would be better going in the front with you. He can cover you . . .”

“Max,” Harley interrupted, “Dieter has the shotgun. That’s what is needed. You and Archie can cover the back with your rifles. Dieter can’t.”

With that statement, Max paused, thought it over, and nodded his head. Turning his head to the other deputy, he asked, “Well, Archie, is that okay with you?”

“Don’t like it,” Archie muttered, still watching at the distant farmhouse through the binoculars. “Don’t like it a’tall, but he’s got a point.”

“Then that’s settled. Dieter and I will give them the standard knock and warning. If they don’t come out, Dieter will kick in the door and I’ll go in low and to the right. Dieter will go in to the left. Don’t forget where we are. Dieter did all right last week in that tavern brawl in Staalfeld.”

****

Harley could see Dieter from his location at the corner of the house. Dieter had crawled up from the gully and was watching the house from the ground through an opening in the low  rock wall that surrounded the house. The remnants of a wooden gate hung from one side of the opening. Dieter’s crawl had added some camouflaging mud to his clothes. Harley wasn’t much better. The warmth of the day had softened the ground, and Harley’s jeans and jacket were now damp and had a coating of dirt, leaves, and mud. The dampness sucked heat from Harley’s body, causing him to shiver from time to time.

There was no one in sight and there hadn’t been any movement since they had left the eastern ridge to begin their approach to the farm. Harley could see Archie covering the barn. Catching his eye, Harley gave an interrogative hand-sign. Archie replied with another signal that all was clear.

Harley looked back to Dieter and pointing to Dieter and then himself, indicated that they should approach the farmhouse. This would be close work. Harley laid the M1 on the ground and drew his Colt .45 pistol. He rose and quickly advanced on the farmhouse in a crouch, reaching the doorway at the same time as Dieter. The windows on each side of the door were shuttered closed. Dieter crossed to the front of the house next to the doorway, ready to kick in the door when told. Harley, slightly crouched, prepared to rush the door from the left. He would cross to the right in the interior covering the left side of the room. Dieter would rush the left side of the room to cover the right.

Harley looked at Dieter and pointed to his ears. Dieter nodded indicating he had inserted his earplugs. Harley had inserted his before he had joined Dieter at the doorway.

“Hello the house!  This is Deputy Sheriff Thomas. Come out without weapons and your hands on your head!” Harley shouted in German.

Harley waited for a moment listening for movement or a reply. Nothing. Either they were gone or lying in wait. Finally, he nodded to Dieter to act. Dieter stood, moved to the center of the doorway, and kicked.  Immediately, a shot boomed from within. Dieter spun and fell face down to the side of the doorway.

Damn! Dieter knew better than to stand in the middle of the door!  He felt a surge of anger grow within him. He had been growing more irritable as the day progressed with its wet and cold. For many people, anger flared like a flaming conflagration that led to reckless reaction. For Harley Thomas, anger was cold, quiet, and controlled, a tool to be used, and Harley Thomas was a master craftsman of that tool. Time slowed, and he dived into the room.

As he passed through the door another shot boomed. The lead ball struck the doorframe driving wooden splinters into the side of his neck and face. Hitting the floor, he rolled onto his right side. BAM! BAM!  He fired two shots at a shadowy figure standing at the back of the room with a wheel-lock pistol. The two forty-five slugs punched through the middle of the man’s breast plate about two inches apart. The outlaw took a step, fell to his knees, and then collapsed face down on the floor.

Rising to a crouch, Harley scanned the room when a sharp blow to his back shoved him forward, back down to the floor. Harley rolled onto his side and kicked backward with his left foot, sweeping the feet out from under his attacker who then fell on top of him.

He felt a pop and a stab of intense pain from his knee when the outlaw landed. The second outlaw had attempted to stab Harley in the back with a dirk. Harley’s body armor had blunted the blow. Unfortunately, the fall had also caused the dirk to slash his upper arm.

****

Dieter appeared in the front doorway, silhouetted against the noonday light. He had been grazed by the large caliber ball that had gouged a path along his ribs. The impact had temporarily knocked the breath from him, but he was needed within to cover Harley.

He saw Harley struggling with a man on the floor and rushed over to the two figures to give a vicious kick to the side of the head of the outlaw on top. The force of the kick shot the man’s head to the side breaking his neck with an audible snap.

The rest of the room was empty. Dieter was helping Harley to his feet when three shots rang out from the rear of the farmhouse. One shot had been a boom from a down-timer weapon.

****

“Get your breath and keep watch,” Harley ordered. “I’ll check the rest of the house.”

The room had two exits, one to the rear and one to the left to another room. Harley limped to the left doorway, paused, and slipped into the room. Dieter raised his shotgun to cover the door to the rear of the farmhouse just as another outlaw burst through the doorway with an ax in his hand. Dieter was ready and fired both barrels of the shotgun. The ax wielder staggered back and fell across the doorway.

The sound of the shotgun had alerted Harley and he re-entered the room at a limping run to find Dieter ejecting the two spent shotgun shells and reloading. At that moment, Max Huffman entered the room from the rear doorway, jumping over the body and stood crouched along the wall next to the doorway. Max saw the three bodies. “Harley!  Dieter!” he panted. “You OK?”

“We’re okay,” Harley and Dieter said.

With that information, Max leaned against the wall and slowly slid to the floor. When Max reached the floor, Dieter could see that he was as pale as fresh snow.

“How about you, Max?”  Harley said and he knelt next to his friend.

“Just . . . let me . . . get my breath . . .,”  he said between pants. “Archie got another one coming out the back. . . .  He practically ran over Archie. . . .  Archie nailed him, but he got off a shot and hit Archie in the leg. . . .”

“Dieter!  Take care of Max, I’ll check Archie,” Harley said as he limped through the rear door. There was another room in the back, a kitchen with a large hearth and a fire still lit. No one was there. With a quick glance out an open window, he continued out the back of the farmhouse.

A previous resident had laid down paths of flagstones connecting the back door to the barn and stable. Another flagstone path led to a covered well. Harley saw the fourth outlaw lying in a growing pool of blood a few feet away from the farmhouse. Archie was leaning against the side of the well attempting to tie a bandage around his left thigh.

Harley, now barely able to walk, hobbled slowly over to Archie. “How bad is it, Arch?”

“Could’ve been worse, I guess. Damned ball ricocheted off that flagstone walk and grazed me here along my pants. It must’ve hit my fingernail clipper. I pulled it out of my leg.”  In Archie’s hand were the bloody nail clipper, bent beyond usefulness by the lead bullet. Angrily, Archie threw the nail clipper away.

“You don’t look too good yourself, Harley,” Archie replied. The side of Harley’s face and neck were covered with blood, soaking the collar of his uniform shirt and jacket. The left sleeve of his jacket had been cut and the sleeve edges were dark with blood.

Archie had filled a bucket of water from the well. He had been using it to clean his wound. Harley wetted his handkerchief and began wiping his face and neck, extracting splinters as he found them.

“I don’t trust this well water. I’ve a bottle of ‘shine in my saddlebags. We’ll wipe down with that when we get to the horses.”

Harley finished and had refilled the bucket by the time Max and Dieter came out of the farmhouse. Harley wasn’t sure if Max was leaning on Dieter or Dieter was leaning on Max.

Archie whispered, “Max was back of the stables when the shooting started. I think he ran flat out the whole way from the stables to the house. Over a hundred yards at least. I’ve never seen him move so fast. I didn’t think it would hit him this hard.”

“I think he has some heart problems,” Harley replied softly. “He can’t keep this up much longer. Vina said that she heard Doc Nichols tell him they couldn’t refill some prescription. I know he’s been worried about something.”

A half-hour later, they had cleaned themselves as best they could with the water from the well. Dieter’s wound wasn’t as severe as it had first looked. In fact, all their wounds were superficial—bloody, but still superficial.

“Dieter, I think you are in the best shape. Go get the horses. I have a first aid kit in my saddlebags, and Archie has some moonshine we can use for disinfectant. We’ll bandage ourselves up and go home.”  Harley looked at his watch, it was only a little after one in the afternoon. “We’ve had a hard day.”

On the way to the horses, Max waved him over and handed him a small card. “Ya did good . . . , Kid. Congratulations,” he said between breaths.

****

Dieter walked on to where the horses had been tied. From time to time, he looked at the card Max Huffman had given him. Max said he had passed the test. He’d been shot at and had shot back. He’d remembered his duties and hadn’t failed. Dieter held the card closer to his face. He’d show Greta when he got home tonight, and he would be home tonight. It could have gone differently. It was a lesson he would not forget. He read the card again. It said, “Member. West Virginia Sheriff’s Association.”  He was a deputy sheriff—finally. Greta would be proud.

****

Dan Frost stood in the doorway of the Grantville police station watching his deputies ride towards him. They were quite a sight. All were mud-covered to one degree or another. Max Huffman rode slumped in the saddle, his face gray with weariness. Harley, Archie, and Dieter displayed bandages on various parts of their bodies. Harley wore a bandage on the side of his face and neck with another on his upper right arm. Archie had a bandage that looked like a Kotex pad tied around one thigh. Dieter wore a bandage around his ribs, showing through a rent in his jacket.

They halted in front of Dan and dismounted slowly, all obviously in pain. “Well, well, look what the cat’s drug in,” Dan spoke. “Looks like you had a bit of a fight.”

Harley looked at Dan for a moment and said, “We caught the thieves in a farmhouse. Told them to come out. They didn’t so we went in after them. We left their bodies where they fell. The villagers can take care of them.”

“Who were they?”  Dan asked.

“Probably some out-of-work mercenaries. Appears they ran out of food and were beginning to starve. So they began stealing food to survive. I guess they figured they had a better chance taking us on than they would from the local folks,” Harley answered. “I told the Rudolstadt watchman that someone had to know they were there. It was too close to Debra to be overlooked and the path to Debra and Rudolstadt was too worn for just the four outlaws. They had help.”

“You’re probably right. Well, you told him. We’ll see what comes of it,” Dan Frost replied. “For now, come in and get warm. There’s coffee in the pot, and you all look like you can use some. Besides, I have some news for you.“  He turned and stepped into the office and held the door open. “Go on back to my office. I want to talk to you before you all go see Doc Nichols.”

“Will this take long, Dan?” Harley asked. “Vina’s waiting for me.”

“No, not long. I’m coming to the potluck, too.”

The four deputies slowly walked inside. Dan closed the door and followed them down the hallway that led to his office. As Harley, Max, Archie, and Dieter entered the police chief’s office, they saw Frank Jackson and Chuck Riddle, Grantville’s, and the NUS’s, chief judge seated to the side of Dan’s desk.

“We’ve been waiting for you boys,” Frank said. “We’ve got an offer for you.”

Judge Riddle nodded in agreement.

Harley had a sudden sinking feeling as he sat slowly on a couch along the wall on the side of the office. Max and Dieter joined him while Archie sat in a side chair next to the couch. They waited for Frank to continue. Harley noticed Max and Archie looking guarded. Dieter looked puzzled and obviously had no idea what was about to happen.

“Did you clear up that problem for Rudolstadt?” Judge Riddle asked, speaking for the first time.

“Yes, they did,” Dan Frost said before Harley had a chance to make a reply. “All neat and tidy—no loose ends,” meaning there were no survivors left to prey on people.

Frank noticed a small pool of blood collecting on the floor under Archie’s chair. “Uhhh, Archie, you’re bleeding on the chief’s floor.”

Archie looked back at Frank with an expression of extreme irritation on his face. “F . . .” He caught himself and said instead, “Up yours, Frank.”

“Now, Archie, keep control of yourself,” Frank said with a smile. He turned towards Judge Riddle. “That should keep Rudolstadt happy.”

Dan Frost had been pouring coffee while Frank Jackson and Judge Riddle were talking. He gave one to each deputy and said, “Jamaica Blue Mountain it ain’t, but this is the real thing. I make one pot a week, and this is the day for that one pot.”

As the four held their mugs, the judge began to speak. “I have a problem. My jurisdiction includes all of Thuringia and probably Franconia. Corruption is rampant, the legal system is inconsistent, and its application is erratic at best. We have a petition from representatives from Franconia for assistance. They were referred to Dan Frost and me since the NUS has administrative authority in the region.”

“Evidently, there are some readers of up-time literature in Franconia, and they’ve gotten some Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey westerns. They want us to establish a force along the lines of the Texas Rangers and the US Marshals. Some have seen some John Wayne films too—True Grit and Cahill, US Marshal.

“We have limited resources—a few administrators here and there—and we’re just starting to really understand the scope of the issues. Shoot!  Just look at the mess that happened in Suhl.  There is still a lot of potential trouble there that will keep our attention focused all across Franconia and Fulda, not to mention Bamberg is about to boil over.”

“We need more of these folks firmly on our side. If we can provide some stability, Thuringia and Franconia will become our base, our bastion for survival.”

Dan Frost broke in, “There are other changes coming here in Grantville as well. I’ll be leaving by the end of the year—maybe sooner. There’ll be a new police chief and sheriff. Probably either Fred Jordan or Press Richards. Don’t know which yet.”

g-mrshlsThe judge continued, “We envision an organization, two organizations, really, that will be a combination of the Texas Rangers and the US Marshals’ Service to provide visible law and justice to the New United States. The original Texas Rangers spent more time as a quasi-military force fighting the Comanches. It was later, after the Civil War, that they spent more time in law enforcement than as a militia. But that is what we need: a force to provide law and order, a mounted field force to patrol the territory, and judicial bailiffs—marshals, to provide liaisons with the local governments, administrations, and ruling aristocracies. An organization to do all the little dirty jobs that will arise including criminal investigations.”

“We know you boys are getting a little long in the tooth, and you still have National Guard commitments,” Frank Jackson interjected, “except, of course, for you, Dieter. We had planned to have you continue as instructors and trainers after you trained a few more DIs for the Army. But we realized there were younger men around in better shape that could do the job just as well. What we don’t have are folks who can react to situations that the rules haven’t covered. You three, and now you, Dieter, are more like those old-time marshals than anyone else around. We’re not looking for a `one riot, one Ranger` hero. Just some folks who can take care of themselves when it gets down and dirty and train others to do the same.”

“Just like you’ve done with Dieter, here,” Dan Frost added.

“By the way,” Harley said, “Dieter passed his test today. It’s time he’s a full deputy.”

Frost nodded, “Congratulations, Dieter.”

Danke,” Dieter replied.

“So that’s the deal,” Judge Riddle continuing after Frost’s interruption. “We’re asking for the creation of a Marshals Service and a Mounted Constabulary along the lines of the early Texas Rangers and Judge Isaac Parker’s marshals. I have my son Martin working up charters. When he and I are satisfied with it, Martin will take them to the legislature for review, approval, and funding. We’ve been having some straw man meetings with some of the down-timer representatives, and we think we can get it approved—probably later this year or early next year.”

“I would be the head of the Marshals’ Service until we can find someone to take on the job full time. We have some other folks in mind for the Mounted Constabulary. What we want for you is to be marshals. When the time comes, you would be discharged from the National Guard for the purpose of accepting a position in the Marshals’ Service. Your former army status will help with some of the local aristocracy. I want this organization to be one where anyone can call for justice. Finally, I want it to be a model that the other confederated principalities can use.”

“What if we turned you down?”  Archie asked.

“Well,” Dan Frost grinned and replied slowly, “we hope you won’t. But if necessary, we can always draft you.”

“Yeah!”  Frank Jackson laughed. “Greetings!  You have been selected by your friends and neighbors . . .”

****