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Early April, 1634
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
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."
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
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."
"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
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.