A Matter of Balance

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Somewhere near Kranichfeld

September, 1633

 

At the age of twenty, Dafydd Gough, of Cardiff, Wales, wanted excitement. So he took his farrier journeyman ticket, signed on with a mercenary company, and went to follow the sound of the guns. But instead of shooting, the mercenary company valued his experience. So he ended up shoeing horses, just like back home. The work of a farrier was risky at any time. Working with horses trained for war increased that risk twenty-fold.

Tonight, the horse was as touchy as any the young smith had worked with. Dafydd got three of the shoes in place without serious incident. The problem came on the last. By this time, the horse was tired of the process. Dafydd could tell that trouble was at hand because of the way its ears were cocked.

As he lifted the shoe from the bucket and prepared to apply it, he glanced at the stable boy, holding the hood over the stallion's head. The boy was also tired of the process, and was not paying close attention. Before Dafydd could shout a warning, the boy was knocked to the ground, hood in hand. The horse turned and looked Dafydd in the eye, and the blacksmith faced the flailing hooves of an enraged war horse. He tried to step back, but tripped over something in the unfamiliar shop. He remembered the first strike, which snapped his left femur. Then he must have fainted, because he didn't remember anything else.

****

 

Jena University Hospital

 

Dafydd woke up to a very white ceiling. He had never seen this one before. He was in some sort of odd contraption with pulleys and ropes. His arm and his leg were suspended. The pain was there, but it was endurable. Not as bad as when he'd had cracked ribs.

Dafydd spent the next six weeks reading. It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened. Dafydd could read well in Welsh, Irish, and English, but the latter was the weakest. He had never been very interested in books. But with two months of bed rest, he was more than appreciative to have something to read. He read books about machine tools, books on history, both ancient and in a world that might never materialize.

Through those months, Dafydd spent every day in a bed that had been covered in books and drawings. He got used to propping the book on his arm in traction, and he could draw with his other hand. That’s what he was doing when the physician came in. “Good morning, young man. How are we feeling?”

Dafydd smiled and stretched his good hand high over his head. “I feel as if I'm tied up to a boat dock. When can you cut me loose? I've got other places to be, and these pulleys are cutting into my time.”

The doctor smiled. “I want to make sure you are up to removing the ropes. Then we can decide what our next step is.” He and a nurse opened the wrappings on his leg. Dafydd was amazed at how small it looked after two months of inactivity. The doctor ran his hand along the leg, feeling the shape of the bone.

He poked and prodded for another five or ten minutes, then stepped over to the basin and washed his hands. “I would say, young man, that the healing has progressed very well. Now it's time for some rehabilitation. I think you need another eight weeks of that before you are finished. The nurse will be in to take all this down and check you out of the hospital. She will have all the instructions you need. I want to see you in one week.”

That afternoon, Dafydd, with the help of a boy, limped into town and found a boarding house, and even got a position with a machinist as temporary help. He had to do a list of exercises, and go for appointments every day, but that left a lot of time he could work.

The machinist had more books and drawings from the up-time town of Grantville, so Dafydd spent the next several weeks continuing his education. Many things came to his attention, including machines like airplanes and locomotives. And anything that particularly caught his interest, he meticulously copied and kept with his belongings.

****

The months he spent recuperating made Dafydd realize that he no longer needed excitement. His arm was fit and strong. His leg was healed, but he was never going to win another foot race. Facing a cavalry charge was right out. He was ready to go home.

He had a hefty purse both from the mercenary company and the machinist. Dafydd packed all the paper he'd copied and chose a few presents in anticipation of returning home. One of them was a two-wheeled contraption called a bicycle. What he didn’t spend on presents, he hid among the papers in his chest. So, with a light heart, he made his way north to Denmark to catch a boat for home.

 

Near Merthyr Tydfil, Wales

March, 1634

 

Seventeen-year old Maeve Bowen, known to her family as Mab, stomped down the road. She had been named after her mother’s great-grandmother, Myvanuy, but Mab liked her name anglicized.

Today was not a happy one. She glared down at the ground. A small and unoffending pebble sat in the middle of the road. She focused her anger and kicked the rock with all her might.

The rock shot off the road and into the bushes. That's when Mab noticed that she'd come all the way down to the pony enclosure. When she saw the ponies, her anger dissipated. As a young child, Maeve's father brought her down to see the delivery ponies. They were small in stature, furry, and enormously strong.

They were the same sort of ponies that lived underground in the mine. But those ponies lived and died not knowing the light of day. All the ponies were essential to the business of mining and made bringing up ore easier and faster. From the time she was five, she spent every moment she could with the above-ground ponies and their keepers.

From spending time with ponies, it'd been an easy step to the mining machinery and tools. Soon, Mab was neck-deep in everything about the mine and everything that had made her family one of the richest in the county.

Today, the reason she was angry was her mother. “Mab, it's time to leave your childhood firmly behind and start acting like a lady. You will no longer spend your days getting dirty with the machinery. You are of an age where you should start thinking about marriage. We will find an appropriate husband for you.”

As it was totally inappropriate for her to argue with the clan matriarch, or have a temper tantrum, instead, Mab turned, stormed out of the house, and down the road.

Now that she saw some of the ponies, Mab moved a little more slowly. She didn't quite stomp as she slipped in the gate.

Uncle Evan, who was in charge of the ponies, looked up as she sat down on a tack chest. “Ychydig Tegell, what can we do for you today?”

Immediately, Mab was angry again. “That's another thing,” she huffed. “Everybody thinks it's so funny to call me Little Kettle.”

Uncle Evan grinned as he came over to where she sat. “They wouldn't think it was so funny if you didn't boil over all the time.”

Mab tried to change the subject. She was tired of everyone's attention. “The new hoist, does it work?” Uncle Evan smiled, and they began a discussion about all the things that made the mine work.

 

Cardiff, Wales, at the docks

 

“Back! Taffy's back!”

Dafydd could hear the shout before his ship even docked. He was standing at the prow, watching under the shade of his hand. He saw a young man pushing his way through the crowd.

Dafydd called out, “Trevor? Is that really you? When did you get so big?”

Trevor called back, “I've been down here every day since your letter arrived last month! We've all been taking a turn watching.”

By then, the ship had pulled up to the dock, and they could talk without much shouting. Dafydd shouldered his bag and started to debark. “Last month, eh. I sent that letter almost six months ago. I wasn’t sure it would get here at all.”

Trevor frowned when he saw his cousin limp down the gangplank. “Your letter said you'd been hurt. Aunt Ann was so upset thinking you'd been wounded by a musket ball. So what happened? You drop an anvil on your foot?”

Dafydd gave Trevor a rough hug. “No such luck. I got caught by an angry horse. But don't worry, it's what sent me home.”

“Well, I think your mother has a whole speech planned out about the danger of running off with foreigners and all that.” Trevor started off down the dock.

“Wait, I have a little more luggage. Can you find me a cart? I don't think you and I will be able to carry it all. Not with this walking stick.”

Trevor's eyes were round with wonder. “How much is there?"

Dafydd grinned. “Just get the cart. You'll see soon enough. It's a couple of chests, and a few things I brought back from the wars.”

When Trevor returned with the cart, he was not alone. Word had already spread, and half the family had come to greet the wayward traveler.

Dafydd grinned as he watched his father, Richard, come out from between two buildings. The old man solemnly shook Daffyd's hand. “You're alive, then, and not too broken, either. I can use your help in the foundry.”

It brought a quick catch in Dafydd's throat to hear the gruffness of his father's voice. Richard had never shown quite this much emotion before.

Dafydd turned back to the ship, and they offloaded his trunks. The young cousins crowded around the push cart. He grinned at their excitement.

Trevor said, “Look! Two pirate chests! Bet they're full of gold.”

John snorted. “No, you fish-head, he was fighting for the Swedes!”

Then Trevor shouted. “What is that?”

Dafydd smiled. “I think they've spotted the bicycle. It's sort of a mechanical cart without a donkey, that a man might ride.”

The crowd swelled. Family and townspeople alike gathered to welcome one of their own, back home.

****

Dinner that evening was a burden for Maeve. She had to dress properly and was no longer allowed to eat with the children. She had to attend the formal dinner. And what was worse, her father had invited two young men from the city. Mab sipped her soup to hide her irritation. When she didn't open the conversation, her mother did so. “Mr. Jones, how is your mother? I haven't seen her lately.”

Mab rolled her eyes, but since she was staring determinedly at her soup, it was not noticed. It would not have been so bad if at least one of them had been near her age. But one was plainly over thirty, and the other was at least twenty-five. Mab had only reached seventeen, though she looked older. She sat quietly next to her sister, Agnes. And for the life of her, she couldn't think of anything to say, so she sipped her soup again.

Mab's mother was a good hostess, and would not let the conversation drag. “Mab, Mr. Jones' family is from Caerphilly. They have a woolen mill there. And Mr. Wigley comes all the way from Derbyshire, is that not true?”

Mab tried to hide a smile as Mr. Wigley choked slightly at the mention of his name. He was the younger of the two gentlemen, and seemed much more self-conscious than Mr. Jones. So, just to see if he would blush, she addressed him. “Mr. Wigley, what does your family do in Derbyshire?”

Mr. Wigley did indeed blush, a deep red down his cheeks and under his collar. He used his napkin, then smiled. “I come from a long line of barristers, Miss Bowen. My grandfather was a member of Parliament. I try to stay as far from politics as I can, though. Nasty business, politics.”

Mab smiled and took another sip of her soup. The evening dragged on.

****

Richard Gough made sure that nothing of Dafydd's was molested until after dinner. It was difficult for some of the younger apprentices. All through dinner, they discussed the war from every viewpoint. Nobody at the table were supporters of the Habsburgs, and the French armies were considered spawn of the devil.

Finally, it was time for Dafydd to open both chests and distribute the gifts. The table groaned under the weight of the chests and their contents. As the men of the extended family watched, Dafydd opened each lid with a flourish.

Inside were rolls and piles of paper, nothing more. It was silent for a moment, then Trevor blurted out, “Taffy, there isn't any gold in there. Didn't you bring home anything valuable?”

Dafydd laughed. “Of course I did, Trev. These are copies, drawings, and instructions for the machinery of the future!” He reached into the first trunk, and pulled out roll after roll of paper wound around wooden sticks. Then others began pulling rolls out as well. Each new drawing brought oohs and ahs, then the drawings were spread on every surface and studied with a thoughtful manner.

Trevor (the youngest apprentice) dug paper out until he reached the bottom of one chest. “Paper's all right, I guess. But where's the gold? That's what everyone says mercenaries bring home.”

Dafydd chuckled. “Most of my troop lost their pay as fast as they got it. Mercenaries are spendthrifts and wastrels, and would as soon gamble their gold away as anything else. Look for the roll that says, 'Old Stuff We Already Know.' It should be right at the bottom of the other chest.”

Dafydd watched Trevor sorting through rolls in a frenzy. It was not long before the young man was back with a roll.

It looked like the others, paper rolled around a stick except it was heavier. Dafydd raised the bundle high and smashed it on the end of the table. Then he grinned as a flood of coins, green printed paper, and documents flowed from the roll.

Trevor squealed. “Taffy, what is it?”

Dafydd picked up a handful of coins and let them pour back onto the table. “There you see four years pay, loot, and wages from the Germanies.″

The family moved in to gawk at the money until Gwenda, his mother, shooed everyone away. “If I'm to be responsible for all this, it's going to need to be counted. Off with all you, we have work to do.”


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