WWJD Is The Wrong Question

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Early June, 1637, Grantville


Mouthful of dirt, seasoned with blood.

"Owwwwww . . ." Alyse Glazer blinked, trying to remember the last time she'd fallen off a horse. The horse in question stumbled, dodging something Alyse couldn't see, and grazed a steel-shod hoof along Alyse's ribs. The bay filly kept going, but Alyse lost her breath again. Shoving against the fairgrounds livestock arena's hoof-chewed ground to stand up sent what felt like hot irons through Alyse's ribs; pain flowed up so fast and hard it felt like lightning torching open a South Texas summer thunderstorm.

"Sobrina mia querida," Uncle Matteo's voice, as warm a lilt in Tex-Mex Spanish as it had been the day she turned thirteen and fell off the first horse he'd given her a leg up on, murmured in her memory. "Coger el caballo  . . . catch the horse, volver a la montura . . . get back in the saddle. Otherwise the horse will know you can be thrown, and you'll be afraid he'll do it again. Don't let him get the better of you."

One more time, she pushed against the ground to rise, failing. Alyse slid down, breathing out, right shoulder just not working. "Ayudame, por favor."

If the apprentice couriers heard her raspy almost-whisper, they didn't appear to understand the words. Hurt, though . . . that, they could savvy clearly enough. Well, here and now how easy a fall off a horse could cripple or even kill a rider wouldn't be exotic knowledge, Alyse thought. But she'd fallen in front of a baker's dozen folks supposed to learn what Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño called working miracles with horses. Yesterday she and Rafael de Treviño had taken turns giving standard demonstrations without incident, showing their new apprentices tricks of the trade. Today she'd been supposed to demonstrate brush-country cattle-working skills. But now . . . the teacher couldn't even stand back up after falling off a horse. That rankled more: she'd fallen, not been thrown. The blaze-faced bay hadn't bucked. The filly hadn't even shied.

"Una ambulancia," she tried again. Puzzled faces stared at her. Half the class clustered around, offering to lift her to her feet. "¡Traiga Luis, por favor—andale!"

The smallest, blondest boy in class looked dawned-on, turned, and sprinted toward the fairgrounds office. At least he knew who to look for and where to start, she thought. Bueno.

"See what spoiling animals gets you!" a voice said somewhere behind her. Gerhard Rutger, always arguing how much better brute force worked. The stocky twenty-something with the half-sneer habitually fixed on his bearded face added, "Teacher."

He said it like that wanna-be tough guy'd said "Bitch," a universe ago, right after Alyse's Appaloosa fell over the rope he'd jerked across a warm-up alley before the barrel-race quarter-finals her junior year. Once Alyse knew for sure that Sport hadn't been hurt in the fall, she'd come unwound. She'd just kept planting the hijo de puta back down face-first into the dirt and muck in the pen-alley until he ran out of get-back-up that day. Well before that, his friends had quit calling her, or the spotted horse she'd ridden, names.

"You need to do that again," Tio Matteo's ghostly presence suggested from somewhere in her memory, "with this chotacabras, Rutger."

But she couldn't. For one thing, she wasn't seventeen any more. That fight had cost her a much-coveted rodeo scholarship when the one hundred fifty dollar fine kept her from entering any events in the last half of the semester. Alyse never had considered that price too high for keeping stupid adolescent boys from putting Sport in danger, though.

For another thing, her uncle Matteo didn't live in this universe, even all the way around the world in South Texas. Alyse missed that life more every day, stuck in the middle of the Thirty Years War, trying to keep a roof overhead and food on the table. Sometimes, she felt more like she managed her successes in spite of, rather than with help from, the husband whose new job in West Virginia had brought them to Grantville the summer before the Ring fell.

Matteo's presence faded as her breathing came back to normal. Alyse pushed against the ground again, intending to scramble to her feet, and pain whited out her mind. She gave up trying to stand up.

"I told you—' Rutger started to sneer.

"Cállate!" That hadn't been the right thing to say. Here and now a woman had to speak German, or some dialect of it, to be understood. Nobody spoke the quick-liquid border Spanish she'd grown up with or wanted to bother learning it. Alyse felt exactly the same way about Early Modern German; she heard nothing but its misbegotten flavors every day, here and now. Biting off a yelp, she pushed her other elbow into the dirt. Her ribs hurt like fire. Her shoulder . . . just didn't work.

"Teacher," Rutger repeated, his voice almost gloating. "These horses are spoiled. They need beating to break their bad habits!"

Alyse froze. If he mistreated the badly frightened filly she'd fallen off of now . . ."No!"

Sturdy youngsters coalesced around their fractious classmate. Another voice—one she'd known for just over a year now—sliced through the chatter, in proper Catalan. "¿Qué ha pasado? What's happened?"

"Me caí de la caballa," Alyse answered in raspy Tex-Mex. "I fell off."

"¿Se cayo porque?" Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño—her not-so-silent partner in the courier service business—pelted from the office, vaulting the rail fence.

"What made you fall?" Right behind him, nearly under tow by the blond boy, came Luis Ybarra.

Rafael de Treviño stopped two strides away, swept down to lift something, and one-handed her heavy stock saddle, raising it to eye-level. "¡La cincha saltó y Alyse Glazer cayó de la caballa!"

That explained how the horse's quick half-spin separated Alyse, along with the saddle, from its back. Her head and body hurt so much, Alyse could hardly think. Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño, however, had no such impediments. "¿Por qué rompió? Está dañado. Alguien lo cortó."

"Señor Rafael de Treviño says," a voice sang out in Amideutsch, "Miz Glaser fell because her saddle is damaged. Someone cut her cinch." Now Luis knelt at Alyse's shoulder, cradling her head against his knee with what remained of his right arm. "Aly—Miz Glazer, are you hurt?"

Alyse licked her lips—a mistake, as the salty taste of bloody cow-pen dirt filled her mouth all over again—and tried to answer. All her words still came in Spanish. "I think I broke my collarbone, and the filly busted my ribs when I couldn't get out of the way."

"Can you tell me in English?" Luis hovered, eyebrows drawn together into one heavy line straight above a bright-liquid dark-hazel eye, faintly-freckled nose and a fist-sized black eye patch.

"No." Alyse gave up all pretense. "I can't remember the words . . . "

"All right. I heard you."

He spoke Tex-Mex as easily as Amideutsch, or English, for that matter. Alyse had come to love Luis like the baby brother she'd never had in the three years since he'd turned up in the hospital, a Wartburg survivor with no more notion of how to go home than money to get there on, still recovering from having lost his eye and hand and half his forearm to napalm. He'd only remembered having one name: Luis. He wanted to make prosthetics for his fellow survivors, so he taught himself to read English and German and started on Latin. Without him her houseful of very young children probably would have starved, because they'd have tied her too closely to hearth and crib for her to work. Without what she'd earned and bartered, she could not have kept them fed and housed and clothed during the years her husband served in the war or, after that, a fledgling government far from Grantville. Without Luis, she knew, none of this could have been possible.

"Now tell me," he said, "where you hurt."

Alyse sucked back breath. "All over," she answered in Spanish. "Call an ambulance? Please?"

Black-haired Luis Ybarra straightened, gathering the apprentices via gimlet gaze. "Bobby, go back to the office. Dial nine-one-one. Tell the operator we need an ambulance and police at the fairgrounds in the working pens. Run!"

Roberto "Bobby" Cardonez—the same small blond boy—didn't wait to nod; he leapt from where he'd been crouched at Alyse's knees and landed sprinting. "Yes, Luis!"

Alyse caught her boarder's sleeve. "Listen, Luis—this isn't that filly's fault. I don't know how, and I can't prove anything, but I'm sure Rutger's to blame."

"Don't let it worry you," Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño nodded brusquely. "Luis, we'll handle this. Just take care of our Alyse." Rafael de Treviño had a muscular wiriness, like Luis, and a face full of fury. He had, also like Luis, a deep abiding affection for Alyse—not the love he felt for his wife or daughters, but respect, and a strong sense of kinship born of long hard hours’ work together. "We have all the time in the world to see justice finds this criminal—and we'll see it. I swear on my oath as Pedro Sebastian Rafael de Treviño."

Luis shook his head, turning to the apprentices. He added in rapid-fire Amideutsch, "Don't let Rutger fool you, boys. He's not to be trusted."

Rafael de Treviño switched to Amideutsch too. "Leave that horse alone, Augustus! Give her room to calm down. You and Odell . . ." He addressed the biggest two apprentices after Rutger. ". . . hold your classmate, there. He must not handle that horse or this saddle, and he must not leave. Understand?"

"I told you . . . " Rutger began blusteringly.

"No," Alyse interrupted clearly, "No me dices. No eres jefe aquí!"

Luis growled, staring over Alyse's head toward the damaged saddle. Meanwhile, Alyse's partner led the circle closing in on Rutger. He backed away, step after step, until the rails of the pens stopped him. The circle tightened.

Alyse swallowed tears of relief, holding still as she could manage. A wail of sirens and a thunder of diesels arrived: Grantville's Fire Department had sent an ambulance. A quarter-mile or so behind came the police.

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