/ Language: English / Genre:sf_history / Series: Assiti shards

Ring of fire II

Eric Flint


Eric Flint

Ring of fire II

Preface

This is the second of the Ring of Fire anthologies, following the one that came out four years ago, in January of 2004. As was the case with the original Ring of Fire, the stories in this anthology are all part of the 1632 series which I began in 2000 with the founding novel, 1632, and have since continued with the following novels:

1633

1634: The Baltic War

1634: The Galileo Affair

1634: The Bavarian Crisis

1635: The Cannon Law

In addition to the six novels so far published in the series and the two Ring of Fire anthologies, other stories in the 1632 setting have been published in the part-anthology/part-novel titled 1634: The Ram Rebellion, as well as the Grantville Gazette. The Gazette is an electronic magazine devoted to the 1632 series which I began publishing in 2003, the fifteenth issue of which has just come out. Beginning in the summer of last year, the Gazette is published on a regular bi-monthly basis. The first three volumes of the magazine were published by Baen Books in a paper edition, and the fourth volume is coming out in paper in June of this year.

(For information on how to subscribe to the Gazette, see the end of this preface.)

To put it another way, short fiction is as integral a part of this series as novel length stories. "Integral," not simply in the sense that the stories are part of the setting, but that they often play a major role in shaping the series. They are not simply, as is usually the case with spin-off anthologies attached to a popular series, stories "off to the side." What happens in these stories very often lays the basis for major developments in the novels, as well as either introducing important characters or developing them still further.

That's especially true of the stories which appear in the Ring of Fire anthologies. There is no sharp and clear dividing line between stories that appear in the Gazette and stories that appear in the RoF anthologies. The distinction is certainly not one of literary quality in the abstract. But, as much as possible, I try to select stories for the Ring of Fire anthologies which connect more directly with the series as a whole than do most of the stories in the Gazette.

That was true for the first Ring of Fire anthology, as I explained in some detail in my preface to that volume. It is true of this second one, as well. To give some examples:

Andrew Dennis' "Lucky at Cards" is an integral part of the story line which he and I began in 1634: The Galileo Affair, developed further in 1635: The Cannon Law, and will be continuing in novels to come. It depicts an episode in the career of Giulio Mazarini-now Jules Mazarin, having taken service with Cardinal Richelieu's France.

Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett's "A Trip to Amsterdam," along with Iver Cooper's "The Chase," develop further the adventures of a group of young American entrepreneurs whose story was begun by Gorg as far back as the first volume of the Gazette (see "The Sewing Circle") and has continued in a number of stories published in later issues of the magazine. So far, those characters and their activities have only received incidental mention in the novels, but that will be changing in the future. These kids are not about to go away, to say the least.

David Carrico's "Command Performance" is one of several stories he's written, the first of which appeared in the Gazette, that depicts the impact of the time-transplanted Americans on seventeenth-century music and musicians. These same characters will figure prominently in a murder mystery novel he and I are co-authoring titled 1635: Symphony for the Devil.

K.D. Wentworth's "Eddie and the King's Daughter" tells the story of how the romance between Eddie Cantrell and the Danish king's daughter Anne Cathrine, which figured prominently in 1634: The Baltic War, got started in the first place.

Virginia's DeMarce's "Second Thoughts" continues the story of Noelle Murphy, one of the central characters in 1634: The Ram Rebellion, and serves as a preface to the final story in this anthology.

That's my own short novel, "The Austro-Hungarian Connection," which ties the development of Noelle as a character to major changes taking place in political and military developments in Austria and Hungary with the accession to the throne of a new emperor. The story also features Denise Beasley, one of the major characters in a new novel I've co-authored with Virginia entitled 1635: The Dreeson Incident, which will be coming out within a year.

And this preface is probably long enough. I hope you enjoy the book.

Eric Flint

July, 2007

Horse Thieves

Karen Bergstralh

Fall 1633

The rain pelted down solidly, stirring up the puddles in the road's many ruts. Four men and a boy slowly rode along, huddled in misery. This stretch of road passed through several still-abandoned villages and the nearest inn lay several miles down it.

"Why does it always rain when the four of us travel together? Twice I've gone with Herr Parker and it only rained a little. It didn't rain at all when we went to Magdeburg and Jena with Fraulein Parker. Why does it do so now? If we had brought them, would they keep the rain from falling?" The soft tenor grumble came from Reichard Blucher, a huge man with a cheerful smile not reflected in his voice.

"It rained plenty when Rob was with us," Dieter replied. "I think it is just France telling us it is time to go home."

"We've been out of France for a week," Wilfram Jones muttered back. A trickle of cold water traced down the back of his neck and he tried fruitlessly to adjust the collar of his rain slicker. The battered old Stetson he wore directed the rain away from the back of his neck better than any other headgear he'd worn, yet some cold water always got through. The true miracle was the slicker. It shed water better than any oiled wool cloak and was far lighter.

"Papa, will it rain all the way home?" Jacques asked. The thirteen-year-old boy had been adopted the previous year. Some of the former mercenaries had stumbled into Jacques' village and found only two women and four children alive. Christian was now married to one of the women and had adopted the surviving children. This horse-buying trip was the first time Jacques had come along.

"No, son," Christian replied, smiling at the boy. That gentle smile on Christian's face always surprised the other men. Christian du Champ generally looked like a priest about to launch into a three-hour sermon on mortal sin.

Despite the rain, it had been a good trip. The results, forty large horses, followed quietly on lead ropes behind the men. On this trip they had gone to Le Perche in their search for draft horses. The mercenaries-turned-horsetraders had gotten a good selection of young mares and two yearling colts. The animals were slated for Ev Parker's heavy horse breeding program, but only the colts belonged to Herr Parker. All the rest belonged to them.

A sense of satisfaction settled on Wilf. Two years before they had all been mercenaries in one of Tilly's tercios, marching on Badenburg. The tercio had found out that the rumors of "wizards" nearby were true, as up-time guns had shattered it. Taken prisoner, the men had been saved by Gretchen Richter. It still amazed him, to have gone from mercenary to prisoner to hired farm help and now to partner in Herr Parker's draft horse breeding operation-all in the space of those two years. Give them another year like the last, and they would be rich men. A better end, he thought, than his father had predicted years before. Maybe next spring he would travel back to England and see if his father still lived.

Lightning bloomed overhead followed immediately by thunder, making several of the horses dance. When eyes and ears had adjusted, Wilf signaled his companions to silence. He had caught the sounds of someone else swearing. Christian moved his horse ahead of Jacques, giving Dieter the lead rope of his string of horses. Reichard swung his mount alongside Wilf's and handed over his string also. Hands now free, the two men moved slightly ahead of the rest.

Out of the darkness and rain emerged two sodden men on horseback-men dressed in uniforms with muskets at the ready. Wilf had just enough time to see Reichard's lifted eyebrow and nod before one of the soldiers spoke. The order for them to halt was no surprise. What had caught their attention was the uniforms and the muskets-flintlock muskets.

Complying with the soldiers' orders, the group stopped and waited. After a brief consultation that looked more like a whispered argument, one soldier remained in front of them. The other rode past, peering intently at them as he passed. Having inspected them, the second soldier then rode back to join his companion. Another whispered argument followed with much gesturing.

Reichard leaned toward Wilf and muttered under his breath, his eyes on the two soldiers. "They want our horses, from what I make out."

"Aye," Wilf replied, "and they'll not care about any objections from us."

Wilf turned his head and caught Dieter Wiesskamp's eye. Dieter smiled tightly and quickly tucked one of his lead ropes under his thigh. His free hand dipped into his slicker pocket. That pocket now contained an up-time revolver.

At Reichard's side, Christian frowned blackly, nodding also. In his right hand, hidden by his slicker, would be one of those lovely small swords the up-timers called a "Bowie knife." In Christian's hands, blades had a deadly elegance.

Turning back to face the soldiers, Wilf dallied both lead ropes around the saddle's horn with a quickly muttered prayer that the draft horses would remain calm and docile. Wilf's hand slipped through his own slicker pocket and the slit behind it to find the pistol at his waist. Easing it out of the holster, he snuggled it down in the raincoat's pocket.

"They're going to split up, one riding next to me, the other next to Christian. Think we're the merchants." Reichard whispered. "Leave them to Christian and me. We can do it quietly and if we miss…"

Wilf nodded in agreement. Gunshots from up-time guns sounded distinct to the trained ear. He had no wish to announce the group's connections with Grantville if it could be avoided. Soldiers like these wouldn't be alone. More would be somewhere nearby. If Reichard and Christian could dispose of these without having to shoot them, there was one less risk of bringing unwanted attention to them.

Finally the two soldiers reached a decision. "You will come with us. Do not argue or we will kill you. If you try to escape, we will kill you." With that the speaker turned his horse and motioned for Reichard to join him. The second soldier moved to the side of the road and took up station alongside Christian.

"You," growled the second soldier, his musket pointed at Christian, "will ride at the back." When Christian nodded in agreement, the first soldier motioned for the group to move out.

The first soldier rode just to one side. His musket was aimed at Reichard but he was trying to watch all of them. Turned awkwardly, the soldier didn't see the tree branch looming ahead. Although it was barely more than a large twig, the slap of the branch against the side of his head distracted him. That was all Reichard needed. He reached out with one huge hand and wrapped it around the soldier's neck. A quick jerk dragged the man from his saddle to dangle over the road. Reichard's other hand grabbed a shoulder and twisted. The sound of the soldier's neck breaking was almost hidden by the splatter of the rain. Reichard dropped the limp body and spun his horse around.

Behind them, Christian saw Reichard's first movement. Slamming his horse hard against the second soldier's, Christian's hand snaked out with the Bowie knife. The nearly headless body slumped down and slid off onto the muddy road.

"Papa, weren't you afraid he would shoot you?" asked Jacques in a quivering voice.

"No, son. Flintlocks aren't worth spit in heavy rain; wet powder won't fire. He wasn't a very good soldier, either. He rode too close to me. You did well, Jacques, for your first fight. Now, take the horses over there, under that tree, and wait."

"Yes, Papa." The boy smiled, proud of his stepfather's praise.

"We can make a soldier out of him," Dieter commented. "Now, what should we do with this one?"

"Pray God he never becomes a soldier. I'll not have that life for him." Christian spat and shot a sour look at Dieter. "As for this piece of filth…" He dismounted and approached the dead soldier. "Haul him into the woods and let the wolves deal with him."

"Did you notice their horses and how the beasts move?" asked Dieter.

"Like they were on their last legs. See, this one just stands here." Working gently Christian slipped a rope over the horse's head and unbuckled the bridle. "Ever seen a bit like this before?"

"In several books-the same books that showed uniforms like they were wearing and saddles like that one," Reichard replied, bringing up the other loose horse.

"Up-time books?" Wilf asked.

"Yes, those ones on the Americans' civil war. Rob Clark loaned them to me, when my leg was broken. He thought I'd like it because it was about soldiers. The cavalry used this kind of saddle. Some Scotsman made them, I think. I've even seen one, at Herr Parker's."

"Aye, Herr Parker has one of these saddles. 'McClellans,' they are called. Miserable things to ride, but they are lightweight and are supposed to fit horses better than ours. It appears someone else has been reading the same books."

"Well, this saddle doesn't fit this horse very well. I've never seen such sores before." Christian cursed as he eased the saddle off. "As large as my fist, this one is-and another on the other side just as big."

"We need to get off this road before some of their friends come looking for them." Wilf chewed his lip for a moment, then shrugged. "Tie the bodies up on their horses. We shouldn't be too far from that meadow we've camped at before. Then we need to find out where the rest of them are. God grant they are not between us and home."

"Aye, we can dump the bodies deep in the woods and let the pigs deal with them," Reichard stated matter-of-factly. "After a day or so there won't be enough left for their mothers to recognize them if they are found. Once that's done, let me do a little scouting. If the rest of these soldiers are close, I'll find them."

The rain had ceased some time ago, but here under the trees water still dripped. The ground beneath gave up water like a squeezed sponge whenever Wilf moved. At least it wasn't as cold here where the wind didn't reach. He looked at the men on each side, gauging their discomfort. Reichard Blucher lay quietly, only his eyes moving. Reichard's size should have made him clumsy in the woods but he moved like a wolf. Wilf had heard the tales Reichard told of his forester father and grandfather. Now, hunkered down in these sopping woods he found himself believing them. On his other side, Christian du Champ stretched full length in the wet turf, his body still, his hands holding a pair of treasured up-time binoculars to his eyes.

"What do you think?" Wilf hissed.

"Just what I thought last evening," Christian replied, his voice irritated. "They number about a hundred and show no signs of breaking camp. And they are blocking our road home."

"Waiting for someone or something." The soft tenor voice was always a surprise from the burly Reichard. "They're the oddest cavalry I've ever seen."

"Aye, all of them have rifles-flintlock muskets. Pistols, too. Even the camp is laid out strangely."

The slightest of rustling noises behind him caught Wilf's attention. He turned his head and saw it was Sam O'Reilly crawling cautiously up the slope. Slithering into place beside Christian, Sam held a hand out for the binoculars. The previous night, when Reichard had returned from his scout, Sam O'Reilly and Klaus Goltz had been with him.

"Found them messing about in the woods, making enough noise to frighten a deaf old woman. I thought it better to bring them here than have them blunder into our new friends," was all Reichard said. O'Reilly and Klaus had explained that they were tracking a group of horse thieves who had hit a village near Grantville.

"Looks like the bastards got ahold of an old U.S. Cavalry manual," Sam whispered. "Damn camp is laid out like something from the Civil War. Even got themselves uniforms."

"Yes," Reichard replied softly. "You are right. This camp does have the look of something from that manual. Good book, lots of good ideas there."

"Where'd you see it?" Sam asked suspiciously.

"One of you Americans. He saw me reading a book on your civil war and loaned me a copy. Very good book. He's one of those who play act as soldiers."

"Oh, one of the reenactors. Shouldn't have let you see it; your people get enough ideas without our folks helping." Resentment heavily laced Sam's voice.

"Ah, but we are on your side now. We are all citizens of Grantville. This, my friend, is not a good place to argue-those soldiers may hear us." Reichard's voice was barely audible.

"Aye, well they might," Wilf whispered. "Sam, have you any idea why these troops are just sitting here?"

"Guarding the road?"

"H'mm, I think not. This is hardly a major road, after all-which is why we were using it. We're nowhere near a crossroad or ford. They haven't been pillaging, save for your missing horses. The officers are holding the men in camp."

Wilf sighed. "Why are they here? This road only leads to… Ah! To the Badenburg road. Clever bastards. Sneak along this road-" Wilf took a twig and sketched a rough map in the mud "-until you are in position to drop down on the main road. Wonder what their target is? What about guards?"

"Sheltering out of the wet under trees there, there, and there." Reichard pointed, a feral grin spreading across his face. "Poor bastards will catch hell if their captain finds them, but they've left a couple of nice gaps for us. It would seem some old habits die hard. None of the officers have ventured out of their tents except to go into that big tent. No one is checking the scouts. The officers are lazy pigs."

"Probably noble-born sons," Christian whispered hoarsely. "Useless sots. This lot could use someone like Captain von Schorlemer."

"Or Captain Ramos." Wilf snorted. The other mercenaries laughed silently at old memories.

"No sergeants, then. No one keeping them on their toes." Sam finally handed the binoculars back to Christian.

"Oh, they've got sergeants. They are the men sitting around that nice big fire on the edge of the camp. It is old habits, bad old habits, which this new cavalry troop hasn't lost. The weather's too bad for battle so everyone huddles down and waits. I thought your army people were crazy at first. Your sergeants work very hard all the time. Now, sitting up here and looking down on these, I understand."

Reichard nodded at Sam. "I do not think one of your army units would be so easily spied on."

"Don't count on it," Wilf replied thoughtfully. "All men get lazy and careless. I think that too often you up-timers believe rate-of-fire is all there is to war. Your manuals warn repeatedly about getting careless-as do your sergeants."

"Yeah, Little Big Horn syndrome. Just because you got better guns doesn't mean the enemy can't kill you," Sam agreed. "Guess you Limeys had some problems that way with the Zulus, someplace called Rorke's Drift."

"Ah, yes. I've seen that movie, too. The English hold out in that one. I think the one you mean is Zulu Dawn. A few brave English soldiers attempt to stand up to thousands of spear carrying natives with predictable results. The lesson is: don't get cocky and don't get careless and don't assume better arms mean you will win. General Jackson and others say such things often. Which is why I think we should depart this hill before continuing our discussion. Sam, you go first, Christian next, then me, and Reichard will tidy up after us."

"Ha! Those guards, should they move from their dry spots, will never know we were here." Reichard smiled. "And when the time comes, they will not know they are dead until they try to get up. I have some new tricks I want to try." His smile grew wider and fiercer.

The horse traders were camped in a small valley a little distance from the cavalry camp. Unless one looked very carefully it was hard to spot the three small shelters tucked under some tall bushes. What did draw attention was the large number of horses grazing along the tiny creek. When Sam approached, one horse, a big, ugly roan, looked up and snorted. Dieter Wiesskamp stepped into visibility, an up-time rifle cradled in his arms. Nodding at Sam, Dieter whistled two short bursts and Jacques du Champ stood up from a low spot in the meadow, proudly holding a.22 rifle.

"Where are Wilf and Reichard?" Dieter asked.

"Scouting to see if we've drawn any unwanted attention." Sam tried not to show his dismay at not having spotted either Dieter or Jacques. Damn, when had they gotten so good?

"So what's the verdict? Are we going to sneak back to Grantville?"

"So impatient, Dieter, always you are so impatient," Christian chided, coming out of the woods and crossing the meadow behind Sam.

"I want to get somewhere dry," Sam groused and resumed walking. The idea that his down-time companions might be better woodsmen irritated him.

"Aye, and I wouldn't turn down a warm meal." Christian angled off to admire his adopted son's clever hiding spot.

"So my best guess is that whoever these men are they are waiting for someone or something. What their target is, I wish I could guess." Wilf spoke around the stem of his pipe.

"Might be looking for targets of opportunity. A hundred men aren't that large a force. Especially armed with flintlocks in this weather." Sam gestured at the rain, again bucketing down outside their shelter.

"A hundred men… From the two we met up with they might be Bavarians. I can't see them being Spanish but maybe good old John George has grown a backbone. Whoever, they appear to be copying an up-time manual so this would be a company, correct?" Reichard poked at the fire, flipping a piece of burning wood back into the center.

"Depends on how they're organized," Sam replied. "Might be, I don't know. I've never run around in my great-granddaddy's long johns pretending to be a soldier. Had enough of soldiering when I was in the army. This bunch of foreign bastards isn't big enough to be a serious threat to Badenburg or Grantville."

"Mayhap the target is not Badenburg. The war is heating up again. Troops and supplies might well be found moving along that road. A hundred men could do damage there." Dieter's voice was thoughtful.

"A hundred men could destroy villages and set fire to farms," Klaus agreed. "To a village a hundred such men is a very big threat."

"Sherman's March to the Sea. Terrorize the farmers, burn what they can't steal and generally create havoc. But would they think of that?" Sam sat cross-legged, field stripping and cleaning his.30-06.

"It appears they have a cavalry manual so they probably have several histories." Reichard shook his head. "I've read about Sherman's march in different books. There are lots of ideas in those books, especially for fast raids with cavalry. If they have something about General Forrest… that could give them very nasty ideas. As it is, they seem to have obtained flintlock muskets in some numbers."

His huge hands caressed one of the soldier's muskets. A sack at his side contained the uniforms and other items the two dead soldiers had carried. "Not rifled, and they are not using cartridges. This pattern doesn't look like any I've seen in Grantville."

"Might be from Suhl. There've been rumors of Suhl selling flintlocks in great numbers." Christian peered closely at the other musket. "No, none of the marks are from Suhl. There are people in Grantville who should see these."

"Agreed, see them and soon," Wilf stated, puffing on his pipe. "We need to decide what we will do. Grantville and Badenburg must be warned about these fine gentlemen camped in the woods. You two have found your horse thieves; mayhap you should give the warning. Whatever else, we have horses to deliver."

"I think someone needs keep a watch on them and, perhaps, discomfort them somewhat." Reichard's voice had a rough edge. He tossed the musket and sack across the fire to Dieter.

"Aye, watch them indeed," Wilf agreed amiably. "There are too many friends here about for me to find comfort in either these soldiers' presence or the thought of losing sight of them. The odds are poor, though. A hundred against six… best not stir them."

"I'm with Reichard," Dieter said. "The army may not have any troops close enough to get here before these move off. Besides, we all are members of the army. Reservists to be sure, but still…" He examined the musket he now held. "Piss poor flint on this one. Is the other any better?"

Wilf smiled. "And some of us are getting a bit soft with all this fine living we've been doing. I agree, watch them. But watch only. If you do your usual throat cutting, they'll know we are here."

Christian frowned. "This powder is poor. Badly milled." He sniffed at it and touched his tongue lightly to the small pile in his hand. "Bah! I think someone's let sand get into this powder. The other man's powder was better. Do they each supply their own?" Shrugging, Christian dusted his hands.

"Maybe they do have a bigger target in mind. Maybe they are waiting for more companies to join them. Say they broke their regiment up to sneak them in this close." Sam finished cleaning his rifle and began reassembling it. "Damned sneaky, foreign bastards."

"Oh, aye. A warning must get to Grantville. Our horses must be gotten away from here or else they give away our presence. So many gray horses are difficult to hide. Besides, fresh horses might be what the soldiers are awaiting. Their own appear to be in bad shape. Christian, I think it best if you and Jacques go with the horses and the warning."

Wilf pointed his pipe at the sleepy boy leaning against Christian. "Sam and Klaus should go, also. They are family men and should our friends discover us…" Wilf shrugged and smiled grimly. "Dieter, you'll be needed to help with the horses. Your woodcraft is not as good as mine is. Reichard and I will stay and keep watch on the camp."

Christian nodded. "Best we leave before dawn. Reichard, if we take that path you showed us, don't we hit the Badenburg road?"

"Yes, but well enough down it that you should miss any stray patrols. The trail is narrow in spots, only one horse wide, so don't think you can hurry along it. I'll get you started on it come morning."

"Come on, Jacques, you need to get some sleep." Standing, Christian looked around the group. "I will pray for your safety as I will not be there to keep you out of trouble. Do not get too fancy with your plans lest they tangle you up-as usual."

Wilf grinned back at the thin mercenary. It was Christian who usually got tangled up, especially when the wine or beer had been freely flowing.

"I'm staying." The flat statement came from Sam.

"Three men cannot handle all the horses on that trail," came the equally flat reply from Dieter. "The boy is not strong enough if there is trouble."

"Then Wilf should go in my place." Sam's response was forceful and final.

"Why should I go in place of you?" Wilf asked, surprised at Sam's attitude.

There had been trouble with the man the previous spring. A matter of inheritance, or lack of it. In addition, O'Reilly was one of the few up-timers who never seemed comfortable working with down-timers. Sam was often found at Club 250, drinking and cursing all "foreigners." When the final blow up occurred over the disputed inheritance, the man had gotten massively drunk, beaten up his wife and stolen several horses and guns. Quickly caught and as quickly convicted, Sam O'Reilly had served a year of hard labor. After that, he had appeared to calm down. He did his work but he continued to complain if he thought some down-timer was given an easier job.

In short, sneaking around in a wet forest keeping watch on a hundred soldiers was hardly a task Wilf expected Sam O'Reilly to volunteer for.

"Why should you stay?" Dieter asked.

"Because I've got this." Sam slapped his hand against the butt of the.30-06. "And this." He drew a huge pistol; one Wilf thought was a.357 Magnum.

"If things get dicey I can off more foreign bastards faster and from farther away than that little popgun of yours." The light from the fire played across Sam's face, giving his eyes a red and feral glint.

Glancing at Reichard, Wilf caught a thoughtful look and gesture of agreement from the big mercenary. Dieter and Klaus remained silent but had their hands near their own guns. They both remembered Sam's blow-up the previous year.

Sighing, Wilf nodded. "Aye, nearly a cannon that gun is. Should blow great holes in our friends if needed. Agreed. I'll go back with the rest and leave you and Reichard to entertain yourselves watching yon miserable excuses for soldiers sitting in the rain. Give the sack to me, Dieter. I'll see it delivered."

"You should take these fake McClellans back with you, too." Sam spat into the fire. "There are a couple of guys, reenactors, who should see 'em. Look like damn poor imitations to me, but these guys will know. Might be someone in Grantville has been selling old saddles to the enemy. If they have… well, leave it to these guys."

"I think you are right in calling them imitations." Reichard picked up one of the saddles and turned it over. "From the way they are made the saddler had only a picture or sketch. Look here, how narrow the bars are. I've seen Herr Parker's saddle. Its bars are wider and smoother. This leather is thin and soft. See how it has wrinkled here? The real one, it is covered with rawhide."

"Yeah, the tree should be covered in rawhide," Sam replied. "Then the seat gets covered in saddle leather. Damned trees aren't even from side to side and the two saddles don't match, either. Crappy workmanship."

"Hurried, and working without a true model to show how it should be. Still, as you say, the poor workmanship surprises me. Someone wasn't paying proper attention to the work."

Reichard's large hands stroked the underside of the saddle. "Saddlemakers know well enough that the leather must be smooth. Wonder if some saddlemaker isn't too fond of the man buying these saddles."

Dieter shook his head skeptically. "And what happens when that man notices the problem and takes his complaints back to the saddlemaker? Chance there would be one less saddlemaker alive."

Normally silent, Klaus spoke up. "I think it is either a case of bad workmanship or very clever sabotage. See, on this saddle the leather is not wrinkled. The tree is still uneven but the stitching is better. Yet, be the poor work deliberate, the false saddlemaker may live. There are no maker's marks on either saddle. So how is anyone to know which saddlemaker did this work?"

"Crappy work or sabotage, what does it matter? We've got that bunch of foreign bastards to keep an eye on come morning." With that final comment Sam picked up his rifle and moved off to the shelter where his sleeping bag awaited him.

"He may have the right of it. For now it matters little. Rest well, gentlemen." Wilf nodded to his companions and pondered Sam's motives. Very quietly he whispered to Reichard, "Watch yourself. Yon man is too eager to kill foreigners, any foreigners."

"I understand. I'll be careful."

"Jesus! What the hell did you do to him?" Sam choked out, his face going pale and green. "Looks like a panther chewed him up and spit him out."

"Softly, softly, my friend. There are four other guards about." Reichard looked up. "Should any of them wander over here and find him, I think they will be confused. Lynx do not usually attack humans."

"Yeah, yeah. Maybe they'll think the cat was rabid. But how did you manage to make it look so real?" Swallowing, Sam peered down at the body.

"These." Reichard held up a necklace of five claws strung together with a number of teeth. "Made it when I was ten years old. I'd just killed an old lynx that was bothering the sheep and Papa let me keep the teeth and claws. It was a silly, childish thing to do. I don't know why I keep it."

Sam gave a grim chuckle. "I've got the claws from the first bear I shot. Strung 'em just about the same way, too. I was just turned twelve when Pa took me on that bear hunt. Won't his friends wonder why there was no noise?"

"That, my friend, depends. If any among them are foresters the deception will not hold. If luck is with us, they are all city scum. I was going to just cut his throat, but even a city scum understands that means some enemy is nearby. Come. This one's on his way to damnation and we need to avoid the rest."

"Hey, I've got an idea. Two of these jerks are down that gully-" Sam pointed back the way he had come "-and they're arguing something fierce."

"Ah, let us go along carefully and see. Perhaps they can be pushed into a duel. But first, any changes in the camp?"

"No. Saw the night road patrols come in and the morning ones go out. Took 'em half an hour to switch off. Only one sergeant was involved in the shift change. He sent three patrols out, two headed east and one west."

"What about their horses?" As they backed away from the body, Reichard carefully removed any traces of their presence.

"Oh, yeah. You were right. Looks like they've only got maybe ten horses still in good enough shape to ride patrol. That piebald and the little dun went out again but not with the same troopers. Those two they stole from us. That same guy was out again plastering mud on the sores. Damn good way to get 'em infected. If we have to scoot, these boys can't put up much of a pursuit."

"We cannot count on that. If they are stirred up enough they will come after us no matter how bad the horses' condition. We must remain careful. Let them be cold, wet, and afraid. Waiting in these conditions is hard."

"Hey, man, they get a look at that poor sucker and they're going to be having nightmares. Hell, he's enough to give me nightmares."

Reichard laughed. "Aye, nightmares are what we shall give them. Strange happenings, odd noises-such will have the most hardened soldier looking over his shoulder. Perhaps some will decide to flee."

"And how about we pick off the saps that flee? Let the rest know they'll meet uncanny fates within this wood?"

Reichard chuckled and smiled. "Aye, aye. Then the rest are less eager to continue. They must know they are near Grantville. Everyone knows the minions of Satan protect Grantville. Ah, my man, you give me ideas!" Reichard sighed and looked at Sam. "But it must be done carefully."

Two hours later and the score stood at five dead cavalrymen. One soldier had the bad luck of deciding to urinate from the top of a boulder. Reichard snapped that one's neck and tossed him down onto the rocks below. Sam garroted the third and used a piece of rope to hang the body from a handy tree branch. Reichard carefully marked the ground beneath the body.

"Now," the big man commented, "It looks properly like he hung himself. When the neck doesn't break it takes a bit for one to strangle to death."

The two guards Sam had seen arguing were easily provoked from words to knives by a couple of well-thrown rocks. The surviving guard, as he stood swaying over his dead companion, never saw Sam looming behind him.

"Ah, good work." Reichard chuckled grimly. "One more cut will not be noticed on this one."

"Yeah, and nobody's likely to notice the bump on the back of his head, either." Sam shook his head. "Wonder what the hell they were arguing over."

"I think a woman. At least a woman's name was being thrown back and forth. Now, we must leave this place. They will be missed and their sergeant will come looking."

"Damn, but it would be easy to pick off those officers." O'Reilly caressed the stock of his rifle. "I'm getting tired of all this sneaking around."

"How many bullets do you have?"

"About thirty rounds for my rifle and twenty-four for the magnum. Why?"

"I have twelve for my pistol," Reichard said. "If we both shoot like Julie Sims, never missing, we will have forty left alive. Those forty will be very, very upset with us. Those are not odds I like."

"Shit! We shoot a few of the officers and the rest will tuck their tails and run!"

"Ah, like our tercio did at the Battle of the Crapper?"

Sam stared into the distance. Reichard could see the man was remembering that day. The tercio had just kept coming and coming and coming-right up the muzzles of the Grantville Army's rifles. And with Frank Jackson's M-60 hammering them from the side. Reichard had been in those ranks and had taken a machine gun round himself.

Shaking his head, Sam finally replied. "Okay. Guess you've got a point there."

Reichard exhaled slowly. The crisis was over for now. O'Reilly might be tired of skulking about in the woods, but Reichard was tired of dealing with Sam's inclination for blind violence. Very tired. The up-timer had some woodcraft but he had no patience, and no subtlety.

Gunfire awoke Reichard. Rolling out of his blankets, he knelt and listened. The sound of several rifles boomed raggedly in the distance. Above those was the rhythmic crack-pause-crack-pause of an up-time rifle. Reichard gave a low, sharp whistle, his hands busy picking up the small amount of camping gear and stuffing it into a pair of sacks. At the sound of the whistle, the two horses grazing in the meadow lifted their heads. The larger of the two began to trot toward Reichard. The other, smaller horse grabbed another mouthful of grass and then trailed after his companion. Troll, a massive, ugly, half-Clydesdale gelding, had become Reichard's horse the year before. In that time the big roan horse had learned that such a whistle meant 'oats.' Sam's horse, Travy, appeared to be making the same connection.

Seeing the horses were coming, Reichard again listened. The shooting had decreased somewhat. There was a long pause in the up-time rifle, then it started up again. When the horses arrived, Reichard poured a handful of oats into the feedbags and tied the bags over their noses. While the animals munched on their oats, he quickly brushed their backs and bellies, then threw their saddles on. Troll rubbed his head against Reichard's back, nearly knocking him over.

"Sorry, boy, but we've no time for a leisurely breakfast this morning." He slapped the big horse's neck affectionately. It took only a minute or so more to bridle the horses and tie the sacks of camping supplies behind the saddles.

"Now we are ready to leave this place in a hurry." Reichard snapped lead ropes to the halters he'd left on under the bridles. "So we will go and get that crazy man out of trouble. Trouble I've no doubt he started himself."

Leading the horses through the woods, Reichard came to a spot just below the ridge where they had first spied on the soldiers' camp. The shooting had quieted some.

The first response from the camp, disorganized by the surprise attack, was coming under control. The officers and sergeants were back in charge. The lack of smoke from O'Reilly's rifle would keep the soldiers from pinpointing Sam's exact position. But soon, very soon, some bright man would figure out that the firing was coming from one place on the ridge. Reichard tied the horses to a sapling. He double-checked that both knots would release with a quick pull. When beating a hasty retreat, not being able to untie your horse was not a good idea.

Sam's fire had also slackened. That meant that the easy targets had gone to ground. Reichard eased up the slope in a crouch, his eyes watching for movement on either side of him. Near the top he dropped to his belly and started to crawl toward the rocks where O'Reilly hid.

"Sam, it's time to get out of here," Reichard whispered.

Startled, Sam half-turned, his rifle almost lining up on Reichard's head. "Oh, it's you. About time you showed up. Get up here and give me a hand. Got 'em dancing! Bet they think it's the whole U.S. Army up here!" Turning back, Sam sent a pair of shots down into the camp.

Reichard watched Sam's face carefully. The man's expression seemed unnaturally gleeful. "If we're going to play like we're the Army, we need to change positions. You've been in this spot too long."

"What? Whaddaya mean?" Confusion chased suspicion across Sam's face.

"You've been firing from this spot all along. To make them think we are an army we need to fire from several different positions." Reichard was close enough now to smell Sam's breath and the whiskey on it. Connecting that with the empty bottle now residing behind Travy's saddle, Reichard had an explanation for Sam's behavior.

"I gotta good spot here. Can see all of the camp. You go someplace else and shoot at 'em." Rearing up, Sam took aim at a running man. He fired and missed, fired again and whooped as the man fell and rolled out of sight. "Got the bastard! Why the hell should I move?"

In point of fact, Reichard knew he'd missed the man. That roll had been a controlled one, not the flopping of a man killed or badly wounded.

A movement caught Reichard's eye and he looked to his left. Two more cavalrymen were slipping through the trees, muskets ready.

"Because we are being flanked." Reichard shot at them before he finished the sentence. One man dropped with the loose boned look of death, the other dodged behind a large tree. A shot slammed into the rocks, coming from Sam's right.

"Damn! They should be running by now! I've killed twenty, twenty-two of 'em! The damned bastards should be panicked and running!"

"Well, they aren't," Reichard growled. He left off adding that O'Reilly's estimate of the men he'd killed was wildly exaggerated. A superb marksman such as Julie Sims might be able to kill that many men in such a situation, but there was no chance at all that O'Reilly had done so-or could have, even if he'd been sober.

"If we are to keep fighting them we need to get away from this spot," he repeated urgently.

"I can't see anyone over there… guess you're right. Let's boogie!" O'Reilly rose, fired a couple of shots into the woods to the right and started walking down the hill.

"Stay down!"

"Hell, man, Americans don't run and we sure as hell don't crawl!" Sam stopped, turned deliberately, and sent another shot into the trees before resuming his walk.

"The horses are over there." The remaining soldier on the left stepped away from a tree, his musket aimed and ready. Reichard snapped a shot that way and saw the soldier duck back. Fumbling a bit, he reloaded as he followed Sam down the hill.

When they reached the horses Reichard was relieved to find them still there and alone. He ground his teeth in frustration as Sam took time to check Travy over and readjust the saddle.

"Ain't one of you foreigners can saddle a horse right." Sam finally swung up in the saddle. "Won't see me…"

He paused as several shots came from the top of the ridge. "… soring any of my horses' backs." Grunting, he shook his head, then slid the rifle into the saddle scabbard. Unsnapping his holster, Sam pulled the.357 out and emptied the cylinder at the men now coming down the slope. Not one of the shots came close to any of the approaching enemy, so far as Reichard could see.

"Getting a bit warm around here!" Sam grinned, spun Travy around and set the horse off at a run.

"Just a bit warm," agreed Reichard, relieved that O'Reilly was no longer arguing to stay and fight. He sent Troll in pursuit of the smaller horse. As they galloped out into the sunshine of the meadow, Reichard saw the stain spreading just below Sam's right armpit. It wasn't sweat.

When Travy half-jumped the little stream, Sam wavered. He took the reins in his right hand and wrapped his left around the saddle horn. The horse, aware something was wrong, slowed. Reichard caught up and saw the paleness in Sam's face.

"Can you hold on until we've hit the path? Once back in woods we'll stop and tend your wound."

"Bastards!" Disbelief edged out pain in Sam's reply. "Can't believe some stupid foreign bastards waving old-fashioned smoke poles managed to hit me. Can't hit a barn door with one at fifty yards. Everybody knows none of you can hit what you shoot at. That's why all the foreigners in the army got our shotguns."

Unwilling to argue with the wounded man, Reichard only replied, "Put enough lead into the air and some of it is certain to find flesh. The one who shot you may have been aiming at me."

"Oh, yeah, you make a bigger target." Sam moaned and slumped as they entered the woods on the far side of the meadow.

When Reichard brought his horse to a stop, Sam's horse stopped also. Gently Reichard plucked the smaller man off his saddle and laid him on the ground. Sam moaned and tried to say something. Even before he lifted the bloody shirt Reichard knew the wound was fatal. Blood foamed from Sam's lips and bubbled out the hole under his arm.

"'S not in my back… didn't get shot in the back?" O'Reilly managed.

"No, Herr O'Reilly," Reichard replied. "One of the flankers shot you. I'll bandage it." He felt O'Reilly go limp.

Glancing across the meadow he saw several soldiers moving on foot. One was pointing toward the trees and shouting at the others. Reichard moved swiftly, wrapping Sam's body in his rain slicker and tying it across Travy's saddle. Finished, he checked the meadow again. The tracker was now trotting along their tracks. Ten or so horsemen appeared on the far side, muskets ready across saddles. It was time to go.

Reichard came out of the last patch of woods and onto the Badenburg road. He couldn't hear his pursuers but, considering the determination that they had shown so far, he was certain that they were still following him.

He started trotting along the road toward Grantville. A quarter of a mile later he realized that there was no other traffic.

"Ah, boys," he told the horses, "this is good. Our friends got through. I'll bet they sent Jacques ahead on his fast little pony. Come on now, Troll, step lively."

Ahead the road bent around a half-rebuilt mill and crossed the mill creek bridge. Something about the scene bothered Reichard and he stopped his horse.

"You wouldn't shoot a friend, would you?" a familiar voice called softly from the rubble.

Reichard chuckled. "No," he replied. "Especially not when that friend is behind a nice big wall and I can't see him. Hold on for a few minutes and you will have some targets you can shoot at with my blessings. It would be nice to discourage them."

Major Stieff stepped out into the open, an up-time rifle cradled in his arms. He gestured toward a pile of downed trees across the road. "We've enough to do that, I hope." He smiled. "Four of us on this side and four more over there. How many are we waiting for?"

"Eight, maybe nine. I think I wounded a couple."

"Ah, so you didn't manage to bring the entire bunch after you. Eight or nine we can handle. There's an army unit headed down from above Badenburg. We'll leave the main body to them. Your horses look like they could use a breather. They can join ours in the trees while we see if we can discourage your pursuers." Stieff faded back to his place behind the mill's walls.

Reichard dismounted and led the horses into the trees. The pile of tree trunks he noticed made a solid, U-shaped wall. Each tree had the nice, clean cuts of a chainsaw. He grinned in approval when he saw that someone had plastered mud over the newly sawn wood. The soldiers chasing him should see a pile of cut trees and not realize it was a freshly made fort. Afterward, the mill owner's lawyers would have something to say about those trees.

One of the figures behind the wooden wall stepped forward and took Travy's lead rope. "Sam did something stupid, didn't he?" Lannie Parker's voice had a disgusted tone.

"Ah, well."

"Was he drinking, again? Forget it. Of course he was drinking. Poor Maggie."

"Fraulein Parker, he's at peace now, however he found it," Reichard said.

Reichard looped Troll's lead around a branch and loosened the cinch on his saddle. Lannie stripped the bridle off Travy, leaving the halter. She gave the horses a quick drink from a canvas bucket before escorting Reichard into the fort.

"Hey, Reichard. How the heck did they miss a target your size?" Rob Clark slapped the big man on the back. "Glad to see you made it this far."

"Of course I made it. I'm too mean to die. What is that saying your aunt had?"

"Heaven won't have me and Satan's afraid I'll take over hell."

"That's me, Rob. That's me. Put your hat on, boy. These men aren't blind, and that red hair of yours is a wonderful target."

Lannie sighed. "Thanks, Reichard. I've been telling him that for that last fifteen minutes. He doesn't listen to me."

"Fraulein, it is ever that way between men and their women." Reichard bowed to Lannie and winked. "A man cannot openly take his woman's advice without feeling that his friends will mock him."

The other men behind the improvised fort were up-timers whose names he didn't remember. The younger up-timer glanced toward Sam's body and gestured up the trail.

"Did you kill him or did they?"

Reichard grunted at the insult. Rob laid a hand on Reichard's arm and Lannie rounded on the man.

"Doggie, you dumbass. You're still the dumbest guy I know. You sure haven't eaten any smart pills since high school."

"Hey, Lannie. Back down. Why're you mad at me? Sam's your cousin, not mine," Doggie whined. "I was just asking. Gotta watch ourselves around these krauts, you know."

Lannie glared at him. "Sam's had a death wish for a long time. He knew Grandpa would shoot him if he raised a hand against Maggie or the girls again. That was if I didn't get to him first."

Reichard smiled down at the red-faced up-timer. "He wasn't shot by me." He tapped his up-time pistol. "Go dig the ball out and see for yourself."

Lannie Parker's defense of Reichard or the offer of an on-the-spot autopsy quieted Doggie. The young man turned back to watch the road. The other man said nothing, only nodding toward the road.

"Didn't hear what you told the major. How many we waiting for?" he asked politely.

"Eight or nine."

"Riding or walking?"

"Riding, the last time I saw them."

"Doggie," the older man addressed the younger, "aim for the middle of the chest."

"Why you telling just me?"

"Because the rest of us have been in a fire fight before. Shut up, Doggie. Or I gotta figure Lannie's got the right take on your brains."

Doggie looked offended but said nothing.

Reichard examined the wooden fort with a critical eye.

He nodded and spoke to Rob and Lannie. "This will do nicely. You've moved fast to block the road and get this ambush set up."

"Yeah." Rob replied. "Jacques had sense enough to come to my place. He knew I'd take his message seriously. I got on the phone to Major Stieff and he sent out the call-up. We were ready soonest and headed up here with the major. Got a couple of regular army units headed this way but it will take time for them to arrive. We're just supposed to slow your 'friends' down if they come this way and then fade back into town."

Lannie added. "Wilf and guys came through late last night. The rest of the militia is mustering in town. Just in case it's another raid."

Reichard shook his head. "I do not think it is a raid on Grantville." He grinned. "If I'm wrong we will treat them rudely and send the remnants running home."

"You and Sam stirred things up." Rob said. He pointed down the road and continued in a whisper. "Here comes your tail. Is that all of them?"

Reichard peered over the logs. "Yes. They've bunched up. The one on the gray seems to be their leader."

Rob pulled out a child's walkie-talkie and conveyed Reichard's words to Major Stieff.

"Wait until the last man passes the dead tree." The major's voice hissed scratchily in return.

Rob pointed out the tree in question and Reichard quickly settled himself. He broke open his pistol to reload and stopped. The only bullets he had were the two left in the gun. Lannie clucked and dug into her fanny pack. "Here. You're using.38's, right?" She dropped a box of bullets into his hands. "Thank God Rob's dad stocked up for Y2K-or was it World War III?"

"Y2K followed by the complete disintegration of civilization," Rob replied, his eyes on the approaching horsemen. "Dad suffered from having been both a Boy Scout and a Marine. 'Be Prepared for Anything' was his motto."

His pistol reloaded, Reichard turned his attention back on the road. The soldiers on the road had stopped. He counted seven of them. He must have hit a couple in that last exchange of shots before reaching the Badenburg road. The soldiers' horses stood still, heads drooping with fatigue while the men argued.

"They've spotted us." Doggie whispered. "Told you they would."

"Shut up, Doggie." Rob whispered back. "They're arguing about tracks. The guy with the corporal's stripes thinks Reichard went the other way. None of them are trackers if they can't pick out Troll's size thirteens."

The argument resolved itself and the soldiers kicked their horses into motion toward the bridge. The last man, the corporal, rode past the dead tree and the ambush was sprung.

Reichard emptied his pistol into the body of men and bent to reload. Beside him Rob's rifle cracked out, followed by Lannie's and the older up-timer's. The major's up-time rifle snapped from the mill along with the bass booms of flintlocks. Reichard straightened up in time to see two of the soldiers turning their horses and trying to flee. Lannie's and Rob's rifles cracked, and the two were down. Over the ringing in his ears, Reichard heard men and horses screaming. Lannie and Rob fired together and the screaming horse was silent.

Doggie was on his knees, white faced and vomiting.

Hans Buchen came out from the mill and cautiously approached the dead and wounded soldiers. Major Stieff followed, his rifle at the ready.

Reichard moved to join them.

"Hang on, Reichard." Lannie spoke quietly. "We're supposed to stay here and keep guard."

Hans checked each body, tossing any weapons he found away from unfriendly hands. Five of the bodies were too still for life. Satisfied that neither of the wounded was a danger, Hans whistled and a two-horse wagon creaked out from behind the mill. Buchen and the driver loaded the dead on first and then, more gently, lifted the wounded aboard. The second man climbed into the wagon bed and began bandaging the wounded.

Major Stieff walked across the road. His eyes continued to stray up the road. "Is that the lot, Blucher?"

"They're the ones I saw following me." Reichard answered. "Could be others. The rest may come along, too."

"Of course. That is why we will stay here and watch. How many did you and Sam kill?"

"Somewhere between five and seven that I'm certain about. Perhaps another five wounded too badly to ride," Reichard replied.

The major turned toward the others. "I want to keep Georg here." He gestured toward the wagon driver. "We may need our other medic. That means I need someone to drive the wagon while Peter tends to the wounded. I'd like to have at least one of them get to Grantville alive."

Doggie stepped forward. In a shaky voice the young man volunteered as a wagon driver. Major Stieff looked him over and nodded, then turned back to Reichard. "Go with the wagon, Blucher. See that everyone gets back safely. Then get a good meal and some rest."

"Yes, sir. I should take Herr O'Reilly's body to his wife. She should know how he died."

"Yes, yes, by all means!" the major said. "Please extend my condolences to the good lady."

"A toast to a job well done." Ev Parker lifted his stein. "Your mares are beauties. I don't think I could have done any better myself. Those colts look to grow up into good studs."

Wilf lifted his stein in response. "Herr Parker, without your guidance-without your friendship, we would still be but a gang of poor mercenaries."

The other ex-mercenaries nodded in agreement.

"You have, Herr Parker," Christian said, "given us lives, livelihoods, and a home."

Wilf refilled the steins. "Nay, good Christian. Not just a home but a home and family. 'Tis not something mercenaries often find at the end of their soldiering." He looked around for a barmaid. It was a quiet time at the Thuringen Gardens, midway between the last of the lunch crowd and the beginnings of the dinner crowd. Most of the staff were taking their well-deserved breaks.

"Before Grantville's arrival," Wilf continued, "the best we could hope for was to be killed quickly in battle. Else we'd end our days begging for drinking money in some village until death claimed us." One of the barmaids was approaching the table at last.

"Yes." Reichard picked up the conversation. "Surviving as the village drunk and filling young boys' heads with tales of the loot and glory of a war company. Little wonder some of those boys run off and join the first company they find."

"Some of us," Christian chimed in, "found ourselves, ah, encouraged to leave home. When one has no home, no family, and no craft, the mercenary companies offer food, companionship, and a craft."

Wilf noticed the look on the barmaid's face as she came closer. "Methinks we have trouble brewing, boys." He stood and shoved his chair back.

"Herren," the barmaid whispered. Her face was white with fright. "The men, the no-kraut men, they are looking for you. They say you murdered a man."

"Damn bunch of rednecked idiots!" Ev swore. "Damn that Sam O'Reilly-still kicking up trouble even when he's dead."

"I think that trouble wears the name of Doggie this time." Reichard said. "He accused me of murder at the mill."

"Doggie's dumber than a pail full of rocks," Ev replied. "Unfortunately he's got a overly-healthy imagination fueled by too much beer and weed. He's also got a big mouth on him."

They were all standing when the front doors slammed open and twenty some men pushed in. Seeing their targets standing calmly the mob halted in confusion. A few taunts were shouted at the ex-mercenaries but more were aimed at getting the mob organized for its attack.

"Shit, man, get your skinny ass over here and stop trying to bash Win's head in. Save it for the krauts!" shouted a skinny man in a John Deere gimme cap.

"BB, you dumbass, you poke me once more with that thing and I'll wrap it around your fat neck," a voice yelled over the general uproar.

Reichard faced toward the mob and the others lined up on either side of him. Wilf leaned over and whispered, "Herr Parker, if you don't mind, it would be better if you moved aside. We'll be the ones these fools are after."

"I've a mind to join in but it's been fifty years since my last bar fight." Ev grinned briefly.

Wilf was relieved when the old man moved to the back of the room. He turned his attention to the mob milling around just inside the door. They would have to cross thirty feet to reach his group. Thirty feet full of heavy tables, chairs and benches. Good. They had to either move those tables and chairs out of the way or split up. The sound of wood scraping on wood behind him brought a savage grin. Klaus was moving tables to block anyone trying to get at their backs.

"Break bones but let's try to avoid killing." Wilf said.

Christian barked a laugh. "Ah, but their blood is too hot and some of them need a medicinal bloodletting. Look at that one in the red shirt. His face is the same shade."

Dieter chuckled. "Aye. The one in the green cap also has that look."

"That's the old way," Reichard stated pontifically. "The new doctors suggest rest. A little tap on the head and he'll go to sleep."

"Keep the bloodletting down." Wilf growled. "We don't want a massacre."

The men took notice that the mob was armed mostly with baseball bats. A couple of them had lengths of motorcycle drive chain and one fellow sported a golf club. Two men at the back had ropes in their hands-ropes with hangman's nooses tied in them.

"They're looking for a lynching," Dieter said. "Do you think that they believe we will quietly cooperate with their plans?"

The mob had finally sorted itself out and began its charge. Their tight group split up as they wove between tables and chairs. The first man to reach them planted himself and swung a length of chain at Wilf's head.

Wilf grinned, ducked and slammed his fist into the chain wielder's stomach. Things got a bit busy then. Wilf caught occasional glimpses of his friends. He saw Reichard pluck a baseball bat out of a man's hands and slam it back into that man's ribs.

Wilf braced himself for the next attacker. The man in the green cap pushed forward, swinging his golf club. Wilf stepped inside the swing and swept the man's feet out from under him. When the man was on the floor, Wilf stomped on his hand. A blow took him across the back and he turned to deal with it.

A high-pitched scream cut above the general noise. Wilf risked a glance. One of the mob was clutching his stomach with both hands, trying to keep his intestines in. At his feet lay a rusty machete. The sight of serious blood gave the mob pause. Six other combatants lay on the floor, two writhing in pain from broken bones.

Most of the mob turned and fled. Four did not. The man in the red shirt screamed, "You fucker! You fucker! You killed him!" and pulled a pistol from his waistband. His hand shaking with fury, he pointed it at Christian. "I'm going to blow your fucking brains out!"

Christian's Bowie knife swept up, knocked the pistol aside and almost separated the man's hand from his arm.

A shot deafened them all. Wilf's attention snapped back to the remaining attackers. One was down; his body completely limp, head resting at an impossible angle. The dead man's hand was wrapped around a revolver. Reichard stood over him, blood seeping from his forearm. The last two attackers looked at each other in horror and ran for the door.

"I'm not out here to arrest anyone, Ev," Dan Frost explained. "I just need to finish my paperwork on that brawl."

"The boys," Ev Parker replied, "have already paid the Gardens for cleaning up and the broken furniture. Which was generous of them, I'd say. Especially as they only defended themselves. Reichard's arm is busted, Klaus has cracked ribs, Dieter's got broken toes and a couple of broken fingers, and Wilf's probably got a cracked shoulder blade. Christian needed some stitches in his thigh."

Dan snorted. "I've got Austin O'Meara dead. The doctors had BB Baldwin in surgery for eight hours and they're not giving him good odds to last the week. Winston Beattie's got a fractured skull to go with having his right hand nearly amputated. His odds aren't great, either. The other injuries run to broken ribs and arms with lots of cuts and bruises mixed in. One sorry specimen may be singing tenor. He's hospitalized and, for once in his life, praying mightily."

"Yeah, heard about him." Ev grinned. "I also hear that his wife is praying his voice change is permanent."

"There aren't going to be any charges pressed against any of your 'boys.' We've got plenty of witnesses for self defense." Frost leaned back in his chair. He sat silently for a minute, sipping his coffee and thinking.

"You know, Ev, everything considered, I'm kind of surprised that only one man is dead. Even if BB and Winston die, that's not the result I'd have expected. Your boys pulled their punches. It wasn't a fair fight. More like a bunch of junkyard dogs trying to take on a pack of wolves. No, that isn't quite right."

It was Ev's turn to snort. "Twenty drunken amateurs going up against five professional soldiers. Try 'a bunch of junkyard dogs taking on five grizzlies.' "

"Now that sounds right, Ev."

Second Issue?

Bradley H. Sinor

The back door of the Grantville Times printing plant flew open with a bang. An icy blast of January air came rushing in, whipping the flames of several candles placed around Paul Kindred's work table, scattering the numerous sheets of paper that he had spread out on it.

He muttered a comment about idiots, in this case himself, who forgot to lock doors at night. The middle of January, especially in northern Germany in the year of our Lord 1633, was not the time you left a door standing wide open.

Before he could get out of his chair, Paul caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of someone coming through that door. Who he saw was enough to know that this was no chance gust of wind, even though Paul realized he definitely hadn't locked the door.

"Yuri Andreovich, would you shut that damn door!"

When Yuri Andreovich Kuryakin heard Paul's voice he turned with a start, looking around for the source of the voice. With his small frame and twitchy on-the-move manner, he gave the impression of being younger than his twenty some years, not to mention of being frightened by his own shadow.

"Oh, there you are, Paul," the young Russian said, letting a small sigh escape. "I'm glad to find you working late."

"Never mind that, just shut the damn door; in case you haven't looked at the calendar, it's January!"

"I know it's January!" he replied. "Just wait until it gets really cold, like in Mother Russia!"

"Unless you have a cord of wood with you, shut the damn door!"

Yuri made a big show of checking the pockets of his down jacket and thick leather chaps, in the processes of which he managed to push the door closed.

"Nope, no extra wood here," he said with a grin.

It wasn't that he was stupid, far from it. That much Paul had realized within five minutes of meeting Yuri. He just tended to be so enthusiastic that when he got an idea it pushed everything else, including common sense, out the back door.

This was not the first time Yuri had shown up unexpectedly. It had become a regular habit since he had come striding into the Times' office and asked for a job as a reporter. He claimed to have worked for several "local papers" in other parts of Germany, Russia and farther south in the Balkans.

Paul's father hadn't been that enthusiastic about hiring him, but Paul had convinced him to hire the young Russian anyway. As his father's chief of staff, and managing editor of the Times, he had some say in who was on the staff. There was something in Yuri's intensity, his willingness to follow a story no matter what, that reminded Paul of himself just a few years ago.

Though there were moments, like this one, where he would have cheerfully strangled Yuri or taken a two-by-four to him, depending on what was handiest.

"So why the late night visit?" asked Paul, picking up the papers from his table. They showed designs for a fountain pen that local craftsman could make. Paul shoved them into a box and guessed he wouldn't get any more work done on them tonight. He was a newspaperman at heart, but it never hurt to have several money-making enterprises going.

Yuri began to pace back and forth, occasionally glancing toward the windows as if expecting someone to be looking back at him.

"I've got a story, a big one. Okay, this goes back a few weeks," he said, "to the Christmas party at the high school."

That party had been a brilliant stroke, if Paul did say so himself. It had helped improve the morale of all of Grantville; some of the up-timers had been having major problems coming to terms with their "new reality."

"Yeah, Nina and I were there."

"I saw you." Yuri grinned. He stopped, again, staring out the window. "But I also saw something else that apparently you missed entirely."

"Such as?"

Yuri turned to face Paul, the smile on his face a little too self-satisfied for the older man's liking. "How about General Pappenheim himself there in the school."

"Gottfried Heinrich Pappenheim? You've got to be joking."

"I wish I was. When that man shows up there is trouble. It was him, of that I'm sure; the birthmark on his face marks him. Besides, I stood a dozen feet away from him a couple of years ago and got a good look at the man," said Yuri.

"Wallenstein's chief general, here? Now that might just be a story."

"It gets better. I spotted him going into the, what do you call it, men's room. He came out dressed all in red. Julie Mackay made him start giving out presents to everyone."

Santa? Pappenheim had been Santa? Try as he might, Paul couldn't recall the man's face; that red suit dominated everything.

"Remember when 'Santa' disappeared down the hallway? I was in one of the classrooms and saw what happened. There was some altercation involving two men and a barrel of gunpowder. A few minutes later, I saw Pappenheim talking to Julie Mackay and President Stearns. I couldn't hear worth a damn, but I saw everything. I would swear on my mother's grave that the two of them knew who he was."

This story sounded so fantastic that Paul wasn't sure if he should kick Yuri out or take him seriously. Not that Paul trusted the government. Oh, Mike Stearns and the rest, individually, were good men and he had no doubt that they were working for the general good. They were still politicians and that meant you had to keep your eye on them.

Yuri pulled out several sheets of paper and passed them to Paul. "I've got it all written up. It can go in the next edition!"

One thing you could say about Yuri, he did have easily read handwriting and knew how to put an article together. The story covered everything he had seen, plus a lot of speculation.

"No, Yuri Andreovich. We can't run this story, not as it stands now," Paul said. "You cannot accuse the government of a secret conspiracy without proof."

"I've spent the last week asking questions! All it's gotten me is a lot of blank stares and denials. Though I think Lefferts suspects something; I've been followed everywhere I go." Lefferts was Captain Harry Lefferts; he was part of the army but he also functioned as the head of Mike Stearns' special security unit that was directly under the President's authority.

"I didn't say we wouldn't publish it, but before I will-Proof, we will need proof before we could even consider going to press with this," said Paul.

Yuri stared at Paul for a long time. "Very well, I will get proof." His voice suggested that his idea of getting proof would look something akin to a bull in a china shop. Yuri pulled his jacket tight about him and headed out the door without a word. A moment later he opened it again and leaned part way in.

"My byline, above the fold. Da?"

"Of course. I wouldn't have it any other way."

Yuri would not wait long, that much Paul knew. While the reporter was long on talent, he was at times short on patience, and Paul had a gut feeling that this could very well be one of those times.

Pappenheim playing Santa at the Christmas party was just so bizarre that it could have happened. Now if Yuri had suggested it had been Wallenstein, that would have been too much. It wasn't that Stearns wasn't capable of making a deal with Pappenheim, Paul was fairly certain he would, if it were necessary. Like all the other up-timers, Stearns had been forced to adapt to political realities in the seventeenth century.

Paul needed information, fast.

That meant Mirari Sesma.

Mirari was Basque. She had turned up in Grantville three months after the Ring of Fire. Just exactly why she had left the Pyrenees was a bit unclear; a few dropped hints suggested something about a vendetta, but she had never been forthcoming with details.

Mirari had taken over one of the empty buildings in town and had set up a small cafe that turned out to be extremely popular. People came, they ate, they drank, they talked, and, most importantly, Mirari listened. Her dark hair and dark eyes gave her an exotic appearance, but her manner was such that people just trusted her. It wasn't long before Mirari seemed to know everything that was going on in town, and if she didn't know it, she could find it out.

Paul found her in the back of her shop, just after closing at midnight. She was pouring a dark liquid into a cup. Before he could say anything she offered it to him and poured herself another.

"Chocolate?" he asked, savoring the familiar taste.

"I just got a supply in. I'll be saving it for special occasions," answered Mirari. "How is Nina?"

"She's almost over the cold. That herb tea you left certainly helped." Mirari and Nina, Paul's wife, had met weeks before he had been introduced to her. By that time the two of them were like long lost sisters.

"Besides drinking up my chocolate, what brings you out and about this late at night?"

"You always did know how to cut to the point." Paul wrapped his hands around the cup, enjoying the warmth. "I've picked up a rumor that General Pappenheim has been seen in the area, the night of the Christmas party?"

Mirari was hard pressed to keep from laughing. "You've got to be joking. He's not stupid enough to come anywhere near here, not without a very large army at his back. Have you seen the reward for his head?"

Paul was very familiar with the reward. The Times had bid on and gotten the job of printing wanted posters of both Pappenheim and Wallenstein.

"And you're serious about this?" asked Mirari.

"Just see what you can find out, as soon as possible."

"There is something going on," said Mirari. She had shown up at Paul's front door just after six the next evening. She seemed more than a bit unhappy. "Since noon I've had the feeling I was being followed, though I saw no one. It's not a feeling that I like."

Nina had been as pleased to see her as Paul was. The two women hugged and began talking about a half a dozen different subjects as the three of them sat down on the couch.

Among other things that Paul discovered in the next few minutes was that Nina and Mirari were working on setting up some new classes at the high school and were even talking about going into business together. This was the first time that he had heard anything about that.

"Hey, even the Times doesn't get every story." Nina laughed.

"We can try," he told his wife.

Mirari picked up a small glass vase from the coffee table and began to turn it over and over in her hand. "I've not been able to find anyone who might have seen Pappenheim the night of the Christmas party. Of course, there are the usual sorts of rumors about what he is doing, but none of them put him anywhere near Grantville.

"One thing I did put together; it may be related to this, it may not, but some of Harry Leffert's men have been hanging around at all hours of the day and night near Edith Wild's house."

"You're stumbling over Harry Lefferts' men, Yuri was sure they were after him. I am beginning to wonder if Lefferts might be the story, not Pappenheim," muttered Paul, leaning back in his chair and staring up at the ceiling. "And what does Edith Wild have to do with it?"

Edith Wild was a nurse, and a force of nature in the minds of many Grantville residents. She was a volunteer on the Red Cross Sanitation Squad, a job that required that type of personality to get the job done. She definitely took her duties seriously and would brook no interference in performing them.

"I hadn't heard anything about Harry seeing Edith, and I'm not sure if even he could stand up to her should the situation arise," Nina said as she came back from the kitchen with a plate of cookies. "But I suppose it's possible."

"I wouldn't lay odds on his surviving." Paul chuckled.

"Are you sure you know the way?"

Paul didn't bother answering the question, as he hadn't the last four times that Yuri had asked it. His companion did seem to have sense enough to keep his voice down to a whisper, though.

They had been walking for the better part of two hours, gradually working their way through the forest toward the far end of Grantville. Edith Wild's house was less than a half hour's walk from the Times offices, but just walking over and knocking on her door was not going to get the answers that Paul and Yuri wanted. Paul still wasn't sure that he believed Yuri's story, but he had the definite feeling that something might just be going on.

Paul had made a point of not going anywhere near Edith's house during the day, not that he normally did anyway. There wasn't that much to see anyway, beyond the home that Wild had occupied for more than half her life.

There were enough other matters on his plate concerning the Times and several other business projects that his family had in the works to take up Paul's time as he waited at the office for Yuri. A note to Yuri had told him to show up at midnight. The Russian was there at 10 p.m., champing at the bit to get on with it. Paul had considered taking Mirari along, but she had made it clear that she was not interested. Besides, Yuri and she usually ended up arguing about some damn thing or another and they didn't need that tonight.

"I still think that we should have gone this morning to the President's office and confronted him, in front of everyone. That way he couldn't have squirmed out of it," said Yuri.

"That isn't the way the Times does things. We need proof, Yuri Andreovich. There may be something going on, there may not; it may just be a lot of things taken out of context. If you don't like it, you can take your story somewhere else," Paul said.

Yuri muttered something, but it was in Russian and Paul couldn't be sure of exactly what he said.

In the just over twenty-four hours since Yuri had come sneaking in the back of the Times, the weather had not changed, beyond adding a fresh layer of snow. It was still bitterly cold. The two men's breaths hung in the air, and the ground was frozen, grass crackling under their feet with every step.

In spite of the weather, Paul did not feel safe in taking a direct route to Edith Wild's house. There was a chance that Yuri could be right, so they doubled back, crossing and recrossing their own trail, watching for any signs that they were not alone in the darkness.

At one point, Yuri almost tripped over a pair of foxes who were prowling the bushes, looking for food and, no doubt, a warm place to spend the night. It was a sentiment that Paul had come to identify with in the last few hours.

"We're alone," said Yuri. "Let's get on with it."

As they neared the house there was a movement a dozen yards ahead of them. Paul tried to focus on it. Before he could say anything or point out the guard to Yuri, half a dozen figures came on them from three different directions. Voices and fists flew and chaos drew Paul in. There were no faces, just colors and shapes and sound.

Yuri kept moving, dodging the attackers, until he reached the house. He boosted himself up toward a window, using a snow-covered box, hanging on the sill for only a matter of a heartbeat or two.

Paul had little time to watch Yuri. He managed to land several good punches, his fists connecting with bare flesh and clothing. As he turned, Paul felt a sharp pain in the lower part of his back and then a matching one at the base of his neck that sent him crashing to the ground and into darkness.

Paul opened blurry eyes and found himself staring at the business end of a double-barreled shotgun about eight inches from his face. A million miles away, at the other end of the weapon, Paul could just make out the face of a man he did not recognize.

"Can I interest you in a subscription to the Times? Makes a great after Christmas gift for yourself." He gulped. In the back of his mind he was envisioning what the shotgun would do to his face. Of course, he also knew that he would not be alive to see it. He figured flippancy could be the only way to go right now; it wasn't as if he had a whole lot of options right then.

Mike Stearns stepped out of the shadows. He looked at Paul for a moment, shook his head, softly chuckled and waved the shotgun wielding man back.

"On your feet." Mike extended his hand to help Paul get to his feet. "What the hell are you doing prowling around in the woods tonight? And before you ask, I already am a Times subscriber."

"I would say that shows your good taste, but I happen to know you subscribe to the Daily News and the Street as well," said Paul.

Another man came up to Mike. It took Paul a moment to recognize Harry Lefferts. "There were two of them," he told Mike. "We lost the trail of the other one, down by the creek. I'm fairly certain that it was a pain-in-the-butt reporter named Kuryakin. My men have been watching him for the last couple of days."

"Bloody great," muttered Mike. "So, Paul, you never answered my question."

Paul struggled to his feet, wiped himself off and pulled his notebook and a pencil out. "I'm doing my job, reporting. I've come to interview your visitor."

"Visitor? Visitor? I'm not sure what you're talking about," said Mike.

"Mike, let's cut the crap. You and those playmates of yours wouldn't be prowling around the woods at three in the morning any more than I would, unless something important was going on. You can deny it, but I'd know you were lying." This wasn't the first time Paul had run a bluff to get a story, though in the pit of his stomach he felt it wasn't a bluff. "The Times is going to run a story, speculating on just who that visitor might be and why you're going to all this trouble to hide him. Now, you can help me make this story as accurate as possible, or live with the consequences of not bringing me in on it."

Mike went immobile for a moment. The only sound, beyond those drifting in from the woods, was their breathing. It was almost two full minutes before he spoke.

"All right, come inside. There's someone that you need to meet."

The "visitor" was awake. It was not who Paul had expected.

Wallenstein was sitting up in bed, with several pillows behind him. He looked pale, even in the light from the single candle next to his bed. The man's lower jaw was wrapped in bandages. There was a bulge under the blanket that Paul suspected might be a loaded pistol.

Harry Lefferts stood in one corner of the room, an unhappy expression on his face.

"You, sir, present me with a moral dilemma," Paul said after Mike had introduced him. "You know I came here to get a story for my newspaper. But if I write it, I cause major problems not only for my government, which I don't mind doing, but possibly for all of Grantville."

Wallenstein picked up a pad and wrote quickly:

MORALS ARE FOR CHURCHMEN;

STATESMEN CANNOT AFFORD THEM.

"Thank you, Senor Machiavelli."

Wallenstein looked at Paul oddly but wrote nothing.

"We got word that he had survived Alte Veste through General Pappenheim, who came to us with a most unusual offer of alliance."

"Ah yes, Pappenheim. Or should we also be calling him Santa Claus?"

Mike smiled. "Not bad, not bad at all. He offered an alliance to help stir up a revolt in Bohemia plus a few other little political actions that could work to our advantage. The deal was he wanted our dentists to reconstruct the damage that Julie's bullet did. Then there is also the matter of Chmielnicki."

Paul didn't recognize the name, but then he had never been good with European history. He waited for an explanation.

"It's a massacre of ten thousand Polish Jews in 1648. Wallenstein says that if we help him he may be able to stop it."

Wallenstein handed a hastily scribbled note to Mike, who in turn offered it to Paul.

NO MAY. I WILL STOP IT.

BUT ONLY IF YOU HELP ME.

"You want me to sit on the story," Paul said. "That much is obvious."

His first impulse was to say to hell with this, publish the story and expose the whole deal. He wasn't fond of secret government plots, but he could see the logic implicit in what Mike seemed to be doing. It still didn't feel right to him.

"If I was to agree with what you're doing, and I am not saying I will, there is one other problem. Yuri may or may not have seen Wallenstein, but he knows that you were involved with Pappenheim. That can cause a lot of problems in and of itself."

"Then he has to be dealt with," said Lefferts, his voice quiet and without emotion.

"I hope you're not going to try to arrange an accident for him," said Paul.

"Paul, please. There are certain levels I won't stoop to," said Mike. "You know he's going to want to get that story published and he can do it. It's just a matter of time." There were newspapers outside of Grantville, some good, some bad. "We both know there are more than a few places that would be willing to publish it."

"If I agree to go along with you on keeping this quiet, I want an exclusive on it when you do go public," said Paul.

"Provided we haven't been exposed and strung up over this whole thing, you've got a deal," Mike said. "Seriously, I wish I were handing you an easy story to deal with, like a secret squad of ninjas setting up operations in Grantville, but I can't."

"Ninjas, yeah, I've heard those rumors, as well as the ones about aliens. You're sounding like you think I run the Weekly World News rather than the Grantville Times. Not that a fine upstanding gentleman like yourself would know anything about the Weekly World News."

"At least with Playboy you could claim that you were reading it for the articles." Mike laughed.

Paul nodded, only half listening. Later he could not say when the idea had hit him. It was just suddenly there.

"I know exactly what I'm going to do. I think you will like the idea."

"And that is?" said Mike.

"I'm going to do what I always do. I'm going to write the story about Wallenstein being alive and see it published." Paul grinned.

"Now, stop me if I've got this wrong, but isn't that exactly what we don't want to have happen?"

"Trust me."

Paul slid into a booth in the far corner of the inn's greatroom. The place was virtually empty at just after three in the afternoon. That was just fine with him; he could use a little down time. The beer and sandwich that sat in front of him looked very good.

From a chair near the booth he had picked up a copy of the latest sensation to sweep Grantville, the National Inquisitor. The paper had made its appearance five days earlier, turning up in bundles at taverns, stores and any place else that a crowd could gather. There was nothing in it to indicate who had published it; the only bylines on stories were obvious pseudonyms such as Sarah Bellum and Noah Ward.

With its glaring headlines and outrageous woodcuts, it was definitely distinguishable from the Times, the Daily News and, most certainly, the Street. The seventy-five point headline WALLENSTEIN ALIVE, LIVING IN SECRET WITH BIGFOOT said it all. A second story announced PAPPENHEIM BUYS CONDO IN GRANTVILLE.

Paul's experienced eye slid over the pages, checking the text, the layout and the content. Not that he needed to; he was quite familiar with every column inch of it. He had written most of it; and what he hadn't done had been penned by Mirari and a few others they had enlisted. The entire matter had been done in a dozen intense hours after his return from Edith Wild's house.

That this had been done without anyone apparently being the wiser still astonished Paul. In the back of his mind he had been convinced that someone would spot them and put two and two together, especially when they were distributing the papers.

But that didn't happen.

The lead story told how Wallenstein had survived the battle of Alte Veste with help from that legendary humanoid creature. There were not going to be many people who would put any stock in stories published in other papers that the man was alive, or that Pappenheim was anywhere near Grantville, at least for the next few months.

"Checking out the competition, now are we? Or is it just admiring your own work?" said Mirari as she came up and sat down across the table from him.

"I just hope a few other people are 'admiring' it," said Paul.

"That is something you don't have to worry about." Mirari laughed and motioned for a beer. "I've been keeping my ears open, and it is fairly obvious that you've got yourself a runaway hit. The up-timers are laughing their heads off about it. I heard some of them saying it reminds them of something called the National Enquirer, whatever that is. Down-timers aren't quite sure what to make of the Inquisitor, but they like it. I even saw a couple of priests reading it and giggling."

That was a relief. Mike Stearns had expressed considerable doubts when Paul had suggested the idea. Hell, even Paul hadn't been that sure it would work.

Short of sending killers after Yuri, it was the only idea they could come up with in a hurry that had even a glimmer of a chance of succeeding. Revealing the truth was out of the question; Wallenstein still needed weeks of recuperation and the political repercussions would have been devastating.

"I heard some talk that Yuri has been kicked out of three newspaper offices in other towns. He can't seem to give his story away," said Mirari.

"Good." Paul reached down and tapped the copy of the Inquisitor. "It was kind of fun, but I am glad it's over."

Mirari leaned her head back, letting her eyes roll toward the ceiling. "Lord, please help me. The man is as slow and unthinking as a churchman who hasn't been bribed!"

"Woman, what in the hell are you talking about?"

"Okay, let's put this in simple terms. The Inquisitor is a success. Everyone wants to know when the second issue will be coming out."

Second issue? Second issue? That was something that had never even been discussed, that he had never even thought of. The whole concept seemed utterly ridiculous. There wasn't going to be a second issue!

"I know what you are going to say," said Mirari. "There was never supposed to be a second issue. But this thing is popular; people are eating it up and demanding more."

"Yeah, what does that do to the Times' credibility with me editing the Inquisitor?"

"You don't have to." Mirari smiled in a way that warned Paul that the woman had some ideas of her own.

"I suppose you know someone who could become the editor." He already knew the answer.

"Of course. Me. I'll have a second issue out in no time."

There was that phrase, second issue. Mirari would make a good editor; that much he had learned during their marathon session putting the Inquisitor together.

As he mulled it over he kept remembering a lot of the more outrageous rumors that had escaped into the world since the Ring of Fire; a hidden battalion of twenty-first century Marines who just happened to be passing through town when it was transported back in time was only one of many.

"A second issue," Paul muttered. "I suppose it might be fun."

Diving Belle

Gunnar Dahlin and Dave Freer

Stockholm

"Where to, sweetling?" the old woman at the oars asked with a cheerful grin. "For a copper I'll row you anywhere in Stockholm."

Ginny Cochran hesitated for a moment, then flung her duffel bag across her shoulder and clambered down the ship's side. "American Consulate please," she said. "I'm told it's in the city."

"You are American?" The old woman beamed and said in broken English, "I thought you didn't look German." She grinned again. "Besides, I never saw a German woman travel alone."

"My company was diverted elsewhere. But yes, I am American. I'm Ginny, by the way," she said, impulsively holding out her hand.

"Later, sweetling," The woman shook her head. "You'll make me miss my stroke. I'm Toke-Karin. Best rower in these here waters."

Ginny looked around. The boat was small and worn but lovingly maintained, and the old woman rowed with sure and certain ease. Suddenly something touched Ginny's foot, and she pulled it up with startled exclamation. From the recess under her seat, a small boy clutching a piglet looked up at her.

"Gustav!" the old woman's voice was suddenly sharp, and although Ginny spoke next to no Swedish it was clear that the boy had become the recipient of a ferocious scolding.

"He didn't hurt me," Ginny said. "I was just startled."

"Bad for business," Toke-Karin grumbled. "He's named after His Majesty, but barring God's hand, he'll come to a bad end." She huffed noisily. "Frighten the customers like that and they'll never come back." Then she threw a glance over her shoulder and slewed the small craft around to alight against a wooden pier.

"Here you are, sweetling. Kopmangatan. Just walk up the street and turn right at the first crossing." She grinned. "You can't miss the flag."

"Thank you," Ginny handed over a silver coin. "I'll be sure to call on you in the future."

"Bless you, child," Toke-Karin exclaimed. "That's a princely pay, but don't wave that much money around. Times are hard."

Ginny nodded, waved at Gustav and clambered onto the ladder. Then, without a backward glance, she began to walk up the narrow street. "Crossing" was such an arbitrary word. Had the old woman really meant this noisome alley? And there would be no flag after sundown, surely?

Off an alley near the Kopmangatan, in the tap room of the Silver Eel, the arm-wrestling match had been going on for quite some time now, and Per Lennartson had begun to worry. Not about his brother at the table, but at the tension in the room. The atmosphere was so thick that you could cut the air with a wooden knife. Per glanced at his younger brother. Lars didn't look half as strong as he was, but he held the burly boatswain at bay with seeming ease. Occasionally he took a pull from his mug and grinned as he strained against the other man.

"I raise," a corporal shouted hoarsely. "Twenty-five on the soldier boy."

Per shuddered. He had seen games like this get out of hand before. He scanned the tap room for his other brothers. Olof was sulking in a corner, and Karl…

Per groaned. Karl was chatting up the serving girl, quite oblivious to her father's dark looks. Per groaned again, the sound going unheard in the terrible din. What was it about Karl that made every girl take one look at him and fall instantly in love? The wench had put her tankards on a shelf and was preening herself avidly, her thirsty customers momentarily forgotten. Per looked back to the struggling contestants. The boatswain was built like a tree-stump with gnarled roots for arms. Beside him, the lanky Lars with his shock of brown hair looked like a sapling.

The alehouse door swung open abruptly. Per jerked around to see if it was yet a another problem.

The first thing he saw was naked steel.

Bloody naked steel.

The girl with the bloody knife in her hand looked terrified, but there was something about her expression that said: "I'll cut at least half of you before I go down."

Ginny clutched her bloody penknife as if her life depended on it. It probably did. This place looked like no refuge either. It looked like a whole tavern full of the same kind of men who had attacked her in the alley. Two minutes earlier, she'd been trying to decide whether to go back, either to the road or even to the quayside, when her adventure had turned into a horror story.

Papa hadn't wanted his little girl to go. That was more than half of why she'd decided to do it. She hadn't expected him to be right…

The four of them had rounded the corner in front of her. She'd nearly turned and run. But this was supposed to be the safest city in Europe, outside of Grantville itself. She'd kept walking.

Then one of them had said, in German, "Fresh meat!"

It had gone downhill very fast from there. And now the door under the green bush that she'd run to had led her to worse.

One of the street-thugs swaggered his way in. He looked right at home here. He probably was. His two companions were just behind him. One was bleeding. They looked like sharks, closing for the kill.

Then a big hand reached out of the shadows next to the door and took hold of the thug's jacket front, and lifted him off his feet.

Per wasn't ever sure just what made him intervene. Maybe it was her expression. Maybe her clothes-this was no dockyard tramp. Maybe it was just that in Delsbo you didn't treat women like that. Besides, he didn't like the fellow's looks. "And what are you looking for, mister?" Per said. "Besides trouble, ja."

Karl instantly left off his flirtation. "Maybe they are lost," he said, cracking his knuckles.

"That slut cut Heinrich and Wolf and tried to stick me…"

Per's eyes narrowed. He spoke quietly. Most patrons were still focused on the arm wrestling. If the crowd got involved, this could turn very ugly. "Ja. So maybe your friends don't know a slut from a respectable woman. This one looks like gentry. You get caught taking liberties with one of those and the justices will see you get cut, too. Cut off."

The sailor's eyes widened. But his blood was up. "There's only two of you."

"Three," said Olof.

And then things happened quite fast. The second fellow should never have decided that it was a good time to try and grab Karl. The ruffians were a lot more than half-drunk. That probably messed up their judgment. It certainly wrecked their chances in the fight. The easiest and most peaceful solution was to toss them into the alley, so Per started by doing that. That got his man out of the brawl, and neatly knocked the fourth fellow, who had just arrived, right back into the wall of the house on the far side of the alley. Karl placed his fist on the jaw, and his foot in the belly, of the falling man, and Olof threw his opponent over his hip. Per assisted his departure with a foot on his backside, as he staggered to his feet.

Then it was just a case of closing the door.

The girl stood there, white-faced, knife in hand. She'd stepped forward to help. Per found himself smiling at her. A courageous little sparrow, this one. He ducked his head in a bow. "You're very brave, fraulein," he said reassuringly. "But you don't need the knife anymore."

Ginny, still shivering, turned to look at him. She didn't feel brave in the least, but the young man with the huge hands smiled encouragingly.

"Very brave," he repeated. "Four against you, and you only armed with that itty-bitty knife. But you can put it away now. Really."

Ginny took a deep breath and studied her rescuer. From his looks and accented German she guessed he was Swedish. "Please," she said. "I'm looking for the American Consulate. I must have taken the wrong turn."

"I don't know about this 'Consulate,' " he said, shaking his head, "We only came here yesterday. But be easy. We will help you. American, eh!" He bobbed his head. "My name is Per, fraulein, and this is my brother Karl…" The handsome youngster smiled and interrupted in Swedish.

"He wants to know your name," Per said.

"I'm Ginny," Ginny said. "Ginny Cochran."

Karl bowed, as her third rescuer scowled and muttered something. Per chuckled. "I get there. You are not forgotten, Olof. Fraulein Cochran, this is Olof, my youngest brother."

The scowling face smoothed out for a moment as the tall youth gave a minute nod.

"Don't mind him," Per said. "Olof was born angry." Then he grinned at Ginny. "I'll introduce my other brother in a moment." He turned toward the crowd thronging around the arm-wrestlers and shouted something.

"Stop playing with him, Lars. I want you to meet someone." Per Lennartson's shout cut through the din like a clarion call and Lars Lennartson grinned wryly. "Sorry pal," he said, "This was fun, but my big brother calls." He twisted his hand minutely and then slowly, inexorably, began to really push. The boatswain struggled like a man possessed, but Lars just pushed, adding leverage to force to increase the descent, and when the twinned hands hit the table, the sound was drowned by the roars of the crowd. Lars bowed to his opponent before bounding across the room to stop beside Per. He stopped with comic abruptness and bowed awkwardly before Ginny. "Pleased to meet you," he said in Swedish.

The reaction set in. Ginny, surrounded by tall smiling Swedes, found her legs decidedly wobbly. "I really need to sit down," she said. "Can I share your table?"

"We don't have a table." For a moment Per floundered, looking so out of his depth that Ginny felt sorry for him despite her situation. He rallied gallantly. "But Karl will get us all a round of beer." He turned to Karl. "Beer for all of us," he said royally. He looked at Ginny. "And a seat for the lady. First. And some aquavit for her. We will find this consulate of yours."

It was, Ginny decided later, probably a mistake to have accepted the aquavit. She hadn't drunk paint stripper before, but the vile stuff still did nothing for your common sense and judgment. Well. If Ginny was going to be honest with herself, she didn't always have a lot of common sense. She did rush into things. Like applying for and accepting this job. It had seemed better than staying in her father's house after the last argument. Now that she had some physical distance, she could see that it was just that he loved her and wanted to protect her, but at the time… Well, added to the awkwardness about the stolen books from the library… No one said it was exactly her fault, but she had helped Fermin Mazalet with his research into the Vasa.

The aquavit had warmed her up though, and she stopped shaking. From there it had seemed quite sensible to have bought the boys who had helped her another beer, and to have turned to talking about what they were doing here, and then to her own dreams.

Ginny hadn't got very far into her story before Per's translation was interrupted. She'd plainly stirred them up badly with something she'd said.

"She's a Haxa, a witch!" burst out Olof-whose German was rudimentary at best. "I say we kill her before she turns us to her purpose." His freckled young face was hard, and he stared warily at the woman.

"Don't be an idiot, Olof!" Lars Lennartson grinned. "She doesn't want to raise the king's father. She's talking about the ship. You know. That big galley that sits in the bay with only the top of her masts above the water-line."

"How do you know that's what she means?" Karl looked from one brother to the next. His German was the next best. "She said 'raise the Vasa.' We saw good King Gustav's own grave in Uppsala, didn't we?"

Per drained his mug of ale and put it down with an air of finality. "We did?" he said with calculated cruelty. "As I recall it, brother mine, you stole off into some nook to kiss Bishop Kenicius' granddaughter. We saw the grave. Big heavy coffin made from marble. It would take some strong men just to lift that lid."

"That's why she wants us." Olof looked torn between pride and anger. "Since we're strong, I mean."

"Delsbo boys are the strongest," Lars agreed, "But it is plain for anyone with eyes in their heads that we couldn't be tricked into robbing graves. We are both too smart and too God-fearing to do such a bad thing. If this lady was a witch, she'd be the first to see that."

***

It was obvious, thought Ginny, that she'd put her foot in it. Why would a shipwreck be so important to them? They were, by their own admission, upcountry farm boys who had never been in a place as big and magnificent-to them-as this town-which they knew not at all. It was a naval botch, sure, having the pride of your fleet sink in channel out of the harbor. But even the aristocrat-ruled navy had tried to raise it before. Yet-except for Per-the big Swedes were now leaning away. Looking slightly worried. "What did I say?" she asked.

Per smiled. "There was some misunderstanding," he said. "My brother," he nodded towards Olof, "thought that you wanted to raise old King Gustav. He is often spoken of as 'Vasa.' He is afraid you are witch, looking to recruit good strong Delsbo boys to haul the lid off the coffin."

Sometimes, you forgot the kind of superstition that had ruled. Correction, Ginny amended herself, the kind of superstition that still ruled. In the old world, Ginny knew, more than three hundred Swedish women would burn at the stake, victims of both vicious courts and frightened lynch mobs. Up to now, it had been a rather dry fact in the back of her mind. Seeing Olof's cold eyes made it a very different thing indeed.

"I meant the ship," Ginny said rather forcefully. "And I'm no witch."

"What are you then, lady?" asked filmstar-faced Karl in awkward German.

"I'm an assistant librarian. Or I was. I've taken a job to be aide to the new American consul."

By the looks on their faces "witch" was at least something her rescuers understood. But they were prepared to listen. And to marvel. And they were the first down-time people she'd ever spoken to who didn't think that her idea was just the craziest thing that a twenty-year-old woman could ever think of. Perhaps it was back country ignorance, or beer. But they seemed to think that it could be done. By them. On Lars' back.

They had more beer. She should have asked them to take her back to the ship. At least she could find that, if not the consulate. Instead they got to talking about America and up-timers. And the fact that the boys were supposed to be on a boat to Germany as conscripts. And about American women.

"I knew straight away you were from Grantville," said Per.

"Oh, and how?"

He looked thoughtful. "The way you speak, to start." Per shrugged. "You're not a native German, rather you sound a bit like the Scots mercenary I served with, except for not swearing so much, but you pick your words like someone with lots of learning. Your clothes mark you as rich, but no woman from the nobility would have come down this alley." He smiled. "Not without two stout footmen, anyway. Also, you are very direct, like a man almost."

"And is that bad in a woman?" Ginny almost bit her tongue. She had loved debate class, but down-timers had strong views on a woman's place, and this was maybe not quite the right time to tell them how wrong they were.

The big Swede just smiled, however. "No, and most of the women back home are quite forthright, even more than the men sometimes, but usually not at first meeting. It's just here in the city they're different. But no. It is the way you treat people like us. You act a little as if everyone was an old friend. A noble woman would not treat us with any kind of courtesy, and a burgher's daughter would not be sitting here drinking ale with four penniless peasants." He chuckled. "And neither would attempt to salvage the biggest warship in Swedish history. They should have got a peasant to design her. Then she would not have been so toplofty, eh."

Somehow, he had taken it from "dream" to something she was going to try to do. She'd been furious enough at Mazalet's trickery to dream of trying. To take it as another reason for coming here. This man seemed to assume she'd do it. That was… neat.

Per took a long pull from his mug before continuing. "It will take a little bit convincing Olof though. My brothers are honest men, but we come from a small village. It is easier to believe in witchcraft than in people from the future. As our employer you might want to remember that."

"Your employer?" Ginny blurted.

"Yes. Wasn't that what you had in mind when you told us of this? You will need strong backs for this job. It's a big ship." Per shrugged. "I'm sorry if I misspoke."

Ginny drank some of the beer herself. "I hadn't thought that far, to be honest. And I don't have the money to pay you. I'd need partners, not employees, anyway."

He looked puzzled. "What?"

"A share of the ship's salvage."

Now it was Per's turn to look surprised. "You mean as equals?"

She nodded. "That's the best I could do."

There was a long silence. "It's too good." Per shrugged again. "We couldn't make it stick. As soon as we were successful at the salvage, some nobleman would muscle in and grab the lion's share for himself."

"Damn that! Not if I can stop them," said Ginny, lifting her chin.

That was as far as it all got because a stool flew across the room and hit the far wall, announcing the start of a brawl. It was not a very large alehouse, so inevitably to some extent they were involved when the city watch arrived a little later. Patrons who had not fled found themselves escorted off to a night in the cells.

"She demanded to speak to you, sir," said the watchman. The officer of the watch was rather taken aback to discover that the somewhat disheveled woman had addressed him first in an unfamiliar tongue and then in accented German. Taking stock, he realised she was rather well dressed for dockside trollop. She also seemed angry, rather than either jaded or afraid. "This is a fine welcome to Stockholm!" she said. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Just after she'd said it, Ginny realised it was probably not the most tactful approach to have taken. But her night, so far, hadn't left her feeling tactful.

"My job," said the watch-officer, his back stiffening.

"It's a pity you weren't doing it when I was attacked and nearly raped and murdered earlier. Those men you've just hauled away had to save my life."

The officer blinked. "Just who are you, fraulein? And what are you doing here? Where are you from?"

"Grantville."

It seemed that this man had also heard of American women. And that he did not approve. "It is normal for your women to drink in low taverns with the scaff and raff?"

"It's not normal for us to get attacked when we get lost," said Ginny, icily. "Several of the men in the tavern saved my life, or at least my virtue. If they had not, you would be answering very awkward questions tomorrow. They were very kind to me and got me somewhere to sit while I recovered." Ginny conveniently omitted that that had been several hours ago. "They were just about to escort me to the home of Herr Boelcke, the new American consul. I am due to start work there, as his assistant. As it is, I suggest you let them and me go. They weren't part of that fight. They were just in the tavern."

"Lothar Boelcke?" The officer seemed a little taken aback. But he was not ready to back down… yet. "Corporal Petzel. Run to his home and ask if Herr Boelcke can come and confirm this young lady's story." He shook his head in bemusement. Not taking part. Half my squad won't walk for a week, and most of it was those northerners' doing.

"I could hardly think of a worse way to begin your work at my consulate." Lothar Boelcke, the Grantville consul in Stockholm looked furious. "I questioned your appointment, Fraulein Cochran," Boelcke continued with icy precision, "and it seems I stand vindicated."

"I'm really sorry," Ginny began, but Consul Boelcke cut her short.

"Fraulein, I'm a great admirer of the American way, but fighting the city guards does nothing to enhance our status here."

"I'm sorry," Ginny repeated, "but I got lost. The directions to the consulate were all wrong, or this place is very confusing to strangers."

"Well, there is that." Boelcke looked at the ceiling for a moment. "But Colonel Harvarja should have helped you out then. He was supposed to escort you."

Ginny sighed. "Lady Harvarja went into labor six weeks early. They chose to stay with relatives in Kalmar."

"I see. Still, it was inadvisable to go walking alone so late." Boelcke shrugged. "Brave, but foolish."

Ginny frowned. "I was given to believe that Stockholm was a safe place."

Boelcke nodded. "Generally speaking, yes," he said. "It's heaven compared to anything south of the Baltic Sea." Suddenly he smiled. "Swedes are nice people as a rule. Sober, hard-working, Lutherans, the lot of them, but Stockholm is both a port town and a naval wharf. On top of the soldiers, sailors and workers from all over Europe come here, and, well…" Boelcke's smile thinned. "You saw for yourself what might happen."

"I did indeed," Ginny said with feeling. "However, I want to set a few things straight."

An arched eye-brow. "Such as?"

"I was assaulted by foreigners," Ginny said forcefully. "Germans or Poles." The Swedish men, boys really, saved my ass… uh, my virtue. They are peasants from a small town in the north and mistook the guards for the thug's reinforcements. If you'd be so kind as to intercede with the authorities, I'll gladly pay their fines."

Boelcke beamed. "The American way! You honor your obligations. That's why I agreed to associate myself with this new nation of yours, in spite of them sending you here."

"Hogwash."

The snort was so explosive and so unexpected that Ginny jumped. The consul chuckled ruefully and bowed towards the short woman striding through the side door.

Lothar Boelcke smiled. "Allow me to introduce Anna, my wife. She has one very bad habit. She always listens at doors."

The new entrant to the room-dressed in silk and still beautiful in early middle-age-shook her finger at the consul and then turned to smile at Ginny. "Don't let my husband fool you." She spoke good German, but with a strong accent. "Lothar was so happy about his appointment that he couldn't talk about anything else for weeks." She then curtsied to Ginny. "I am Anna Hansdotter, Fraulein Cochran. I just wish your first day in Stockholm had been better." She spoke formally, as if meeting royalty at a levee.

"Please, call me Ginny," Ginny said, floundering with Swedish protocol, wondering if she should extend a hand or curtsey in return. She did both, which didn't work too well. But it did break the ice. "How do I address you?"

"Anna, of course." The older woman winked mischievously. "Although Lothar prefers Herr Consul. It makes him feel important."

"Herr Consul." Ginny bowed. "But it is important, you know. I'm just a young girl, but I've studied history. Only an important nation would bother with a consul. Your presence here, Consul Boelcke, gives us a certain prestige. The more accustomed they become to your title, the more the idea of the United States will take hold."

This plainly pleased Lothar. "Broadly speaking yes." He nodded. "Some of my neighbors will insist that I've delusions of grandeur."

"And rightly so," Frau Anna murmured with a wicked dimple. Ginny decided she was going to like Anna.

The consul didn't deign to notice his wife's comment. Instead he looked at Ginny. "Now, Fraulein Cochran, would you be so kind as to tell me what you are planning to do in Stockholm? I was just informed you had been appointed to my staff."

Ginny tried hard not to swallow. Despite his initial fury and fussy manner, she had decided Lothar Boelcke was no one's fool. Part of what she was supposed to do here, was to report back… about him. Boelcke had been recommended to the powers-that-be in Grantville. He was known to be scrupulously honest in his business dealings with the fledgling state, and was apparently very supportive of American up-timer ideals. Stockholm didn't warrant an ambassador yet… but a consul, even if he was a local, could help with matters, principally with the burgeoning trade. But… an up-timer-born like herself could tell the authorities if the man was really a good choice. "I was an assistant librarian," she said calmly. "I can handle writing, filing and other secretarial duties. I'm also fluent in English and Spanish and by now fairly conversant in German."

"Your German is certainly good enough," the consul allowed. "But most of my ledgers are in Swedish." Boelcke nodded thoughtfully, and looked directly at Ginny. "Let me ask that question again, Fraulein Cochran. What do you want to do in Stockholm?"

"I think the first answer is to become fully fluent in Swedish," she said with a smile. "And as time goes on we will get more English-speaking up-timers here. I could be useful dealing with them."

"It still, at this stage, is work that will not take up much of your time. You need, fraulein, a project to allow you to mix with Swedish people. Something with a good, popular profile, ja?"

"I think," said Ginny, "I may have just the thing. But let me think about it, please." She had a feeling "raising the Vasa" was not quite what he had in mind.

"Indeed, Lothar. Let her find her feet for a day or two," said Anna.

"Thank you." Ginny smiled tiredly. "But I do need to liberate those poor men. They got into trouble for my sake. And they seemed good, honest fellows. Upcountry farmers."

Boelcke nodded. "They mock them here in the capital, but they're the bedrock of the country."

"Mother was right." Olof Lennartson's punch sent fractured mortar spurting across the cell. Olof sucked his knuckles and grimaced "She always said Karl would come to a bad end over a girl."

"I doubt she meant it this way though," Lars said with a grin. "She didn't expect him to ever defend a German lady's virtue against foreign ruffians. Anyway, it wasn't Karl. It was Per."

"More fool you." Karl sighed. "If you're serious about it, defending virtues must be the most thankless job in the world."

"I'm not so sure about that," Per interjected. "That foreign lass was no ordinary girl."

"Indeed." Lars quipped. "For starters she looked at you and not at Karl."

"There is that, too," Per allowed, "but mainly she didn't act like the women I met in Germany." He was about to say something else when the door opened and a turnkey followed by two guards motioned the brothers to step outside.

"I'd rather see you hung," the turnkey said sourly, "But some foreign woman conned the boss into letting you out."

"Told you so," Per said. "That's no ordinary girl."

Gods, but they are big, Ginny thought. She had seen larger men, but taken together in a good light the Lennartson brothers loomed like trees and boulders on a steep slope… right before the avalanche. They all looked expectantly at her, too. Ginny hesitated for a moment, and then she turned towards the oldest one.

Please translate for your brothers," Ginny said. "I came to thank you."

"You got us free," Karl blurted. "Just like that."

"Well," Ginny answered, "I had to talk for a while and part with some silver, but you are free to go."

"Then we're in your debt." Per said something in Swedish, and as one, the brothers bowed.

"Of course not," Ginny said. "You helped me. Paying your fine was the least I could do for you."

"You paid it for us?" Per's face was a study in wonderment, and Ginny found herself nodding. The brothers went into a huddle and then Per spoke again.

"We thank you, lady." For a moment, Per looked uncertain, but then he went on. "We fought those who attacked you because that's our way. For that, you owe us nothing. We fought the guards because of a misunderstanding. Again, you owe us nothing. Now you've paid for our freedom with both your word and your silver. We're in your debt today and for all future." The other brothers nodded, at once crossing their hearts like Catholics.

Like something out of the Dark Ages, Ginny thought. Then she checked herself. I guess these boys never heard about the Renaissance. There was no mistaking their heartfelt sincerity however, and Ginny swallowed a lump in her throat.

"Well, you could do something for me."

"Surely."

"When it is light tomorrow, go and look from the dockside at the masts of the Vasa sticking out of the water. Then we'll talk. Where can I find you?"

Per grimaced. "We will send a message. The place we will be sleeping is not for well-bred ladies. It is not safe."

"Not unless they are lady rats," said Karl, grinning.

Things were going well indeed, Fermin Mazalet reflected as he sat waiting in Admiral Fleming's opulent antechamber. Although there was no one else in the room, the Frenchman hid his smile. His bronze-into-gold-scheme had succeeded beyond his wildest imagination. The suckers, silly aristocrats all of them, hadn't even realized they'd been duped, and most of them would be ready to back his claims of scientific and engineering expertise. Mazalet snorted. Useful fools the lot of them. Swedish aristocrats were more hidebound than those of his country were, and they really believed that knowledge of anything save war would stain their precious honor. A nobleman neither traded nor tilled the earth, and that created enormous possibilities for a man like Fermin Mazalet. Being a foreigner was the key of course; a Swedish go-between would never be anything but a servant. Being seen as outside the system, but with exquisite manners and commercial shrewdness, was a real door-opener with the more hypocritical among the nobility.

"Can't swindle an honest man, Fermin," he thought. "Let's find out what kind of man Admiral Fleming really is." He leaned back on the marble bench about to make himself comfortable for a long wait when a young officer opened the door. Mazalet rose and bowed floridly. The officer just stared.

"The admiral will listen to your proposal, Monsieur Mazalet," he said coldly. "Please follow me."

Arrogant. Mazalet hid his disdain behind a friendly smile. I would keep an armed unknown in front of me if I were he. Treville would have him drubbed out of service in the wink of an eye.

The reason for the officer's seeming nonchalance became evident soon enough. As Mazalet crossed the threshold into the admiral's office, a huge wolfhound rose from the floor and padded towards across the flagstones. The beast pinned Mazalet with its stare as it sniffed loudly. Suddenly it growled, a deep thrumming sound emanating from the large chest. Mazalet stood still, looking intently at the admiral who remained behind his desk. Mazalet did not bow. The admiral was in control of the situation, and he would get to the point eventually. Mazalet just waited.

Finally, Admiral Fleming rose from his chair. "It seems that my dog has taken a dislike to you, Monsieur Mazalet," he said and whistled softly. Immediately the big dog walked backwards to his master's side, all the time pinning Mazalet with a baleful gaze.

"Can't imagine why," Mazalet said lightly. "I'm most grateful for this opportunity to present my suggestion to the admiralty, and I'm quite certain that Your Grace will find that my plan has no inconsiderable merit."

"Get to the point." The admiral sat down behind his desk. "My time is short, and even if I enjoyed your company, I would not have the time to procrastinate over every flowery phrase you strew about you. Besides, your reputation precedes you, Monsieur Mazalet. A nephew of mine invested in your alchemical shenanigan. He's an idiot, granted, but outside warfare a gentleman does not take advantage of idiocy."

Not counting your peasants and servants, of course. Mazalet bowed again. "I was not aware that someone of your peerage could engage in any industrial endeavour," he said blandly. "But if Your Grace prefers to question my honor. I'd be more than willing to give satisfaction." He glanced at the prone dog. "No animals in the salle, of course."

"Heh! You don't lack for guts." The admiral smiled suddenly. "I don't trust you of course, but my nephew probably had it coming, anyway." He waved for Mazalet to proceed.

"Is the salvage contract for Vasa still open?" Mazalet asked. "If so, I want to take a crack at it."

The admiral started. "You want the reward for the salvage?" he asked incredulously. "What makes you think you can succeed where Ian Bulmer failed?"

"I've just returned from a trip to Thuringia," Mazalet said. "And yes, the knowledge and expertise residing with those newcomers is nothing less than miraculous. I didn't spend nearly enough time there, but with the knowledge I've acquired, I'm convinced that the salvage is possible."

"The contract is open." Admiral Fleming leaned back in his chair, and steepled his fingers. "I suppose it doesn't cost me anything to let you try." He turned toward the short officer. "Sparre, please go outside and call for a drop of wine. I'm afraid the discussion will take longer than I expected." He gestured with his hand. "Don't stand there man. I doubt Herr Mazalet will try to hurt the hand that might feed him."

"It's a matter of vast embarrassment to us," said Lothar Boelcke, sipping his wine. "I mean, with the masts sticking out of the water for every trading vessel to see and laugh at. If it could be raised… well it would do the prestige of those involved a great deal of good-besides the monetary value of the salvage, that is. But this Monsieur Fermin Mazalet d'Angouleme… well, his reputation is a little stained. I would be very careful doing business with him. I think, perhaps, Fleming is being clever with him. If he fails… well he had better leave the country fast and forever or he will end up rotting in a jail-which would please Fleming and a number of other highly placed people. If-as seems unlikely-he succeeds… Fleming will get the credit."

"There is the third scenario. He tricks a fair number of people into investing in it… and leaves with the money," said Ginny, thoughtfully. "My father is a good, solid man. But he invested a part of his savings into some scheme to pump water out of very profitable coal mines. It was a scam."

"A what?"

She explained.

Boelcke nodded. "He has a glib tongue. And he deals well with aristocrats. Not…" He smiled. "… with business people like me."

Anna smothered a laugh. "Yes, dear. Because you told me about his last scheme, and I said if it sounded too good to be true, it probably was. So tell us, Ginny. Just what is your plan?"

"I'm not very glib or good at raising money. I couldn't do that in a million years. But I have read and researched enough to know how the Vasa really could be salvaged, if not brought to the surface. I'd like Mazalet to raise the money… and trick him into setting things up so we can actually do it. As long as we get to the stage of bringing up the first salvage, he probably won't cut and run."

"It sounds very good," said Boelcke. "But how do you plan to do this?"

Ginny's eyes were narrowed. "Because I have read the same books from the Grantville library-and a few more-that Mazalet has, I know what he needs and what I think he intends to do. He came here by way of Finland. But he came alone. I've made a friend among the ferry women…"

"You have a happy knack of making friends here in Sweden. Maybe you can raise money easier than you think," said Anna. "So what did the ferry woman tell you, dear? They hear all the gossip of Stockholm sooner or later."

"He had hired some Karelians. Just like Bulmer. But there was fight over money and the equipment he wished to use. They went back."

"Karelians?"

"Divers," said Anna briskly.

"Really, my dear," the consul began, but his wife cut him short.

"Divers," she repeated. "Men that walk under water. There were quite a few Karelians in Bulmer's crew."

"I was just about to say that," Boelcke said evenly. "Bulmer kept a savage bunch that swaggered around town raising all kinds of hell. Not our kind of people by any means, and I don't suppose they did a lot for Bulmer either, since he lost his contract. Diving like that is not something I can say I ever heard of Swedes doing."

"That means," said Ginny slowly, "that manpower is his real bottle neck." She nodded. "With the books he stole, Mazalet might be able to build the equipment, but he will struggle to find divers who will trust him. And I have four of those at my call."

"Those two-fisted northerners?" Boelcke smiled. "They'd certainly be hard to stop if you managed to line them up in the right direction. The question is if they're glib enough to approach Mazalet on their own? He'd be suspicious if you were there."

Ginny nodded. "I think we can arrange it, with me in the background. Then all we need is to catch him."

"And keep him," said Anna. "He is not an honest man."

"I have an idea there, too. I don't think he'd worry about breaking an agreement with ordinary yeoman farmers. He'll expect to run off with the money from the investors and leave the peasants swinging in the wind. I am not too sure of Swedish law, Consul…"

Boelcke rubbed his hands in pleasure. "Just leave it to me, fraulein. He'll be happy to agree to a deal with them-not realizing that they have the right to sell their shares to a third party. You."

Ginny nodded. "Part of them, anyway."

Stockholm: Three days later

He was being watched. Fermin Mazalet had the native instincts of both predator and prey, and he had never found reason to distrust those instincts. Although he stopped at the quay and looked back up the street, he saw no discernible threat. Still, it was with relief he clambered down into a cockleshell boat held flush against the water stairs.

"The naval wharf," Mazalet told the old woman who sat at the oars. "No hurry though." He paused and smiled. "As a matter of fact, I could enjoy a round trip along the quays. The weather is good and I'll pay double."

The woman grinned. "For money like that, I can wait until you're done out there." She nodded towards the wharf. "It's a slow day anyway, my lord."

"Never tell that to the customer," Mazalet said lightly. "and I'm no lord. I just dress that way so that noblemen will take me seriously."

The crone chuckled as she rowed her small craft. "Your secret's safe with me." She chuckled again. "As long as you pay like a lord."

"Get up, dear." Toke-Karin looked after Mazalet's departing form and tapped the pile of tarps. Instantly a tow-headed urchin sat up and jumped onto the wharf. The boy made fast and dropped back into the boat, nimble as a shrew. "Go to the end of the quay and wave to our lady. You know the signal."

"The boy is waving," Ginny lowered her binoculars, "That means Mazalet will return by boat."

"Good," said Per. "With a little luck your Frenchman will see our little show. Lars will complain if he swims for nothing in this water. Even if we have some side bets for a small profit."

"He isn't my Frenchman." Ginny muttered. "But I think he'll bite."

"Sacre Bleu." Mazalet almost fell out of the little boat. "Look at that man."

"Where?" The old woman swivelled her head around vaguely.

"There!" Mazalet pointed. "Up on that bow sprit. It looks like he's going to jump."

"Crossed love!" The old woman cackled. "It happens, it happens. Ah, there he goes."

"Turn that way!" Mazalet shouted as the body plunged headfirst into the water. "We must pick him up."

"I don't want a madman in my boat," the woman said stolidly. She had turned toward the scene anyway.

"We need to help him, by God." Mazalet grasped his rapier. "Don't worry, madam. I can handle a half-drowned fool."

She snorted and bent to her oars.

"Is he coming up?" she asked a little later.

"No." Mazalet scanned the surface. "Yes. There he is. A little bit to port, if you please. No! Pardonnez-moi. Make that starboard and hurry now!"

The old crone muttered darkly, but steered the boat as if by magic, without a backwards glance. Within seconds, however, Mazalet could see that the man in the water had no trouble staying afloat. His arms moved in lazy circles and he smiled and shouted something in accented Swedish. Several young men on the quay shouted encouragement while a bunch of sailors on the ship looked sulkily on.

"Can I be of assistance?" Mazalet asked with a faint smile, as they drew close. This fellow might be exactly what he was looking for. A madman. And one who could swim.

"No," the man turned in the water revealing a young face under a mop of wet brown hair. "Begging my lord's pardon," he said with a strange slow accent, "but we're so close to land that I could walk on the bottom and still get there." The swimmer leaned backwards and began to paddle with his feet as he used his arms to keep the face above water. To Mazalet it looked as the lad was merely resting in the water.

"Crazy boy." The rowing madam spat in the water. "You gave us quite a fright."

"I'm sorry, Grandmother," the boy said. "But winning that bet means I won't starve tonight."

"Do you know this fellow?" Mazalet asked her politely.

"Never seen him before." The old woman spat again. "I know his type. Crazy northerner, nothing but trouble. They trounce our boys and make free with the maidens."

Mazalet ignored her. "You swim well, boy."

"Not as well as my brothers, my lord." The lad rose from the water, standing on the submerged stairs. "It was nice talking to you," he said as casually as if they had met walking along a street, "But I have to go collect my wagers."

"Wait," Mazalet shouted. The Frenchman pulled out a large coin and flipped it towards the crone. "Thanks for the service, madam. I'll be sure to recommend you to my friends." Then he jumped onto the sea-stairs looking wildly for the departing northerner.

"Hey you! You there!" called the Frenchman from behind him.

Lars Lennartson grinned like a fox. It seemed as if their target had swallowed the bait. He ignored the call and stalked towards the group of scowling sailors. "All right, friends," he said. "I braved your bow sprit and I made it ashore. You better cough up the money."

"Why?" A rough-looking sailor said, bunching his shoulders.

"Because I have you outnumbered." Lars pointed with his chin, signalling to Karl, Per and Olof to move in, crowding the sailors from all directions. "There four of us to your six. We're a peaceful bunch," Lars continued, "but you put your money on the line just as we did." His grin would have sent a wolf scurrying for shelter. "Now, will you hand over our winnings or should we pry it from your mangled fingers?"

Slowly, sullenly, with studied nonchalance the sailor handed over a small purse. Lars stuck it inside his belt without bothering to count.

"We trust you." He grinned. "And we know where to find you. Now scoot." Then he turned and bowed clumsily before the speechless Mazalet.

"Did you want to speak to me, milord?"

"Yes." Mazalet smiled winningly. "If you can spare the time."

"Yes, milord," Lars answered. "We have nothing to do anyway. I've some dry clothes to put on, but then we'd be free."

"Let me treat you to a mug of ale then," Mazalet said. "Wine if you prefer. Invite your friends, too. They look like good people to me."

"The best." Lars nodded happily. "Delsbo boys all of them, just like me. My brothers, in fact." He paused. "Can I really have wine? I don't think I ever had that outside of communion."

"Wine it is, then," Mazalet said with another smile. "Please collect your brothers while I go inside and order for all of us." Without waiting for an answer, the Frenchman walked across the quay and disappeared inside a tavern. Lars looked at the retreating back and grinned again.

"She was right. There are more ways than one to skin a bear," he mumbled as he motioned his brothers to join him.

"I must confess to be curious," Mazalet said. "My travels have taken me all around Europe and I thought swimming was a dead art. Where did you learn it?"

"Back home of course," Lars answered. "In Delsbo the smallest child knows how to swim. Of course, the water is not as warm as this place."

His brothers nodded assent.

"So all of you," Mazalet asked shrewdly, "know how to swim?"

"Yes," Per answered. "Olof is the best, but since he's a tad afraid of heights, Lars volunteered to jump from the bow sprit."

"Am not," Olof grunted. "I'm not afraid of anything."

Mazalet smiled. "I quite believe you, young master. But I'm still curious. How come the people of Delsbo are such proficient swimmers?"

"Well," Olof said in an awkward manner. "Lars will tell you it's because Delsbo people are the best, but really it's on account of Good King Gustav and the church bells." He paused, looking around helplessly.

"Go on," Per said. "It will do you good to use your voice for anything but muttered curses."

"I don't curse," Olof muttered. Then he took a deep breath.

"As Grandpa told the story," he said, "Good King Gustav wasn't so good after all. No, he was greedy and wanted our church bells. As Lars would tell you, our church bells were the largest and their tolls carried on even to Norway."

"They had to be," Lars interjected hotly, "since our church steeple reaches the sky."

"As I said," Olof continued. "The old men of Delsbo decided to hide the bells in the lake. Lars will tell you, Lake Dellen is the deepest lake in the world, and they thought the bells would be secure there."

"I see," Mazalet said. "What happened?"

"Well, the old men tied the bells together and put them in the largest church boat. Even that boat was hard pressed to hold the bells, but they were all good sailors so they reached the middle of Lake Dellen. There they cut a notch in the side of the boat and heaved the bells over the side."

"A notch?" Mazalet asked. "Why?"

"To mark the place of course," Olof said. "That's what Grandpa told me anyway," he ended truculently.

"But then you couldn't find the bells again?" Mazalet said.

"That's right," Olof nodded. "'Cause the boat with the notch in the side got burned in a cattle raid. Anyway, since then all the boys in our village go into the lake during summer. To look for the bells, I mean."

"Amazing," Mazalet took a gulp of wine. "Can you actually look under water?"

"Sure," Karl said. "It stings the eyes a little at first and you can't see that far, but fish have eyes too, don't they?"

"Most certainly," Mazalet averred. "And a man should have better eyes than a fish. Anything else would be against God's design."

"Wouldn't know about that," Olof said. "The priest threw me out for snoring. Bloody Lutheran."

"Olof!" Per did not raise his voice, "Why don't the three of you go outside for a while?"

Olof nodded, drained his ale and stood up in one fluid movement. Quickly, his brothers followed suit. Mazalet looked at their retreating backs and smiled.

"Monsieur Treville would have loved your brothers," he said.

"Who?" Per asked.

"An old acquaintance of mine, a leader of soldiers."

"I doubt Karl or Lars would make good soldiers," Per said with a rueful shrug. "I've tried it and I don't want any of us to join the army. Soldiers die."

"It happens." Mazalet's answering shrug was pure Gallic. "It happens. However, I might have a proposition for you later, but I can't contain my curiosity. Was your brother pulling my leg about those bells?"

Per smiled. "Not really. But he was just six years old when Grandpa died. As I understand it, they put the bells on a barge and tied them to a rope with a sealed keg at the other end."

"And that notch? It sounds like a nobleman's joke about stupid peasants."

"Nothing stupid about it," Per said. "The village elders held the barge just so and cut several grooves aimed at different landmarks. You could only see those landmarks through the grooves when the barge was in the right spot. Fishermen do it all the time when they find a good spot. This was a little more precise, and with a little rowing and shouting they would have found the bells after the tax collectors went home."

"But the barge burned?" Mazalet asked.

"I don't rightly know." Per shrugged again. "It is nowhere to be found, and by now the rope and keg must have rotted or sunk and so the bells are lost. Looking for them is a tradition in Delsbo."

"I see," Mazalet said, waving for the serving wench. "In fact, I believe that together, we could bring back those bells." He smiled as he watched the young woman pour. "After all, the highest church steeple in the world deserves the best bells."

***

"He swallowed the bait," Per said.

Ginny grinned. "Hook, line and sinker," she said. "If you understand the expression?"

"Of course." Per smiled faintly. "I see what you mean about him being a good liar and cheat though. He agreed to us each getting an equal share without batting an eyelid. With two shares for himself, and, of course, expenses. He even agreed to write it down and signed it with a fine pen. I made a show of being barely able to read, and struggling with figures, just as you told me."

"He believed that?" asked Ginny.

Per nodded. "Just as he believed we were great swimmers. He didn't guess you had half killed us these last few days teaching us more than just to stay afloat."

"Still, to agree to your starting position…"

Per shrugged. "He intends to cheat us, but he needs divers to persuade people that he really will raise the ship. He would sign anything. He doesn't know that I got the innkeeper and the consul to sign as witnesses. In those old peasant clothes he wore, I wouldn't have recognized Herr Consul myself." Per shook his head admiringly. "He was the perfect fat peasant burgher. Anyway, Mazalet said he didn't care, as it was really the honor of salvaging the ship that he was after."

"He's lying," Ginny said flatly. "Did I tell you what the ship is worth?"

"You did," Per said, "but I didn't understand all of it. That GNP business was a bit beyond me."

"You and most people," Ginny said. "It's been estimated that the Vasa was worth one twentieth of everything that was produced in Sweden that year."

"I still don't understand that," Per complained. "The wharf is big, but even among the locals, not even one man in twenty works there. And most people are farmers in the countryside, anyway.

"All those farmers are taxed," Ginny said, "Are they not?"

"Of course," Per said. "Nobody likes it, but just about everyone outside Delsbo pays."

"Right." Ginny spread her hands. "And much of that money goes into building ships and guns. Believe me, if we succeed, Mazalet will be richer than all but the dukes. My only doubt is whether Mazalet intends us to succeed or just to look like we may. But if it looks like it is working, he will stay."

"And he isn't the sharing kind?" Per asked.

"No," Ginny said. "Definitely not. He'd go back on that deal in an instant."

"Not anymore," said Lothar Boelcke, emerging dressed in his own clothes once more. "That contract is binding."

Per nodded. "We will need you to make over the shares to Fraulein Cochran, Herr Boelcke."

"I see we're going to argue again," said Ginny.

Per shook his head. "No. Without you, lady, we would be worrying about being conscripted, let alone working for a bright future for four penniless farm boys. As it is we can claim to be working on a project sanctioned by the admiral himself. You will pay us fairly," he said with finality.

Lothar Boelcke shook his head. "To save having the argument again. I asked Anna. She said four shares-two for you brothers, two for Ginny here, ja. She has all the knowledge and all the planning, but she needs you for diving, for courage and strength, and one third is fair for Mazalet having to swindle up the money for the barge and equipment." His eyes twinkled. "And Anna is always right. Ask Ginny. Ask me. I have thirty years' experience of it."

Per looked at his brothers. Nodded. "Very well. Now we just need to explain this to Mazalet."

"Let's wait a little," said Ginny.

Lars nodded. "Always make sure that the crayfish is in the trap first, before you haul it out of the water. Now, lady, explain again how this 'diving bell' works?"

"Ja. I want to understand what I drown in," said Olof, in broken German.

A little later, they were sitting in a salle at the consulate, as Ginny demonstrated with Anna's largest preserving bowl and a glass and small piece of thin bent copper pipe. She pushed the glass-mouth down-into the water. "It still holds air. Now watch how the water pressure pushes at it. The air cannot escape, but water now fills the bottom half of the glass." She handed the J-shaped tube to Olof. "Now, put your finger over this end, and the other end into the bottom of the glass."

"I have it!" he said, delightedly. "We sit inside the glass and breathe through the tube!"

Ginny shook her head. "It won't work. Trust me, please. I will show what would happen."

He did as he was told. "Now take your finger off. The air will come out. And if you tried your way, it would even suck the air out of your lungs. Even if you pumped air down… you need a good non-return valve to stop that happening."

"What is a non-return valve?"

Ginny explained. And then explained again. The Lennartson brothers were sharp, but she did have a few centuries to bridge. "But there one simple solution. Air always rises in water. If you can pass me that other tube over there, Per." The tube had a wire framework soldered to its end-a framework that held the end of the pipe below the glass. "Now, Olof. You blow down that pipe. We will have a pump on the surface that does that. Air bubbles up into the glass. Air comes out under the bottom lip. But unless the glass turns over, there is always air trapped inside for the diver to breathe. The diver inside the bell uses oxygen-but new air is constantly pumped down from the surface."

It took some more explaining and repetition, but they had it eventually. They were, in their way, shrewd farm boys, used to contriving when there was no money to buy. "Now all we need is strong enough and big enough glass-with very heavy bottom edges. We do not wish it to turn upside down," said Lars.

"It doesn't have to be glass. Metal or even a barrel with many iron hoops will do. Do better, actually."

Ginny nodded. "Now we will have to persuade Mazalet to do it this way. He had some very strange ideas. Another thing. It will be cold and dark down there. You're going to get wet. You need wetsuits or something that will keep water in to get warm."

"Wool. Wool to the skin," said Olof, whose German was improving as fast as Ginny's Swedish. "Mama always said that."

"Wool, and tight-weave linen over it. With tight cuffs, collars and ankles. Maybe even belts to keep them tight. It will still be cold and miserable."

"It is the job, ja," said Lars. "We Delsbo boys are not afraid of a little cold. Besides they can haul us up quickly to get warm."

"NO. Um. Look, believe me on this… Decompression will kill you. You will have to come up slowly. I've got decompression tables."

"She knows what she's talking about, boys," said Per, calmly. "But we can take some dry clothes. The divers can get dry and have a drink when they come out of the water, even if they are in a big barrel. Look at the glass. There is still some room to sit above the water level."

Ginny nodded again. "You will have to take some kind of lantern down there. As long as air keeps coming from the surface, you'll be fine. Look, Mazalet was full of wild ideas about making up-time devices to dive with. I spent a lot of time explaining that the diving bell was simple, relatively easy to make and did not require some kind of non-return valve, because air is lighter than water."

Per held up the glass. "Will this work?" he asked. "The secret is that the air-pipe from the surface must bubble into the water right? Otherwise this, how do say, pressure, will push the air out of the bell. So we attach the pipe to the bottom of the bell, but we drill little holes, here-about one third of the way up from the lip. The water will always go as high as the holes, because the air is only trapped in the upper two thirds of the bell. The bubbling-in air comes in at the bottom. The trapped air can never meet."

Ginny smiled. He was the quickest of the four brothers. "Yes. And you can pump air to a diver with a helmet down a pipe-so long as the air is pumped from the air that is trapped inside the bell, and the diver is working at nearly the same depth. But to be safe if the bell is at ten fathoms, the diver probably should not go more than say another two fathoms to twelve fathoms. So we could pump air to a diver from the surface, but only if he is not more than two fathoms down."

"And what is the use of that?" asked Lars. "We can swim from the surface to two fathoms."

"But if we are at twenty fathoms, we can go to twenty-two-provided the pumping is done from inside the bell," said Olof thoughtfully. "The air is thick in the bell from the heaviness of the water. So the water cannot push it so easily."

It wasn't perhaps a text-book explanation, but he did have some of the idea of pressure, which considering his background was amazing. "Normally, the deeper the diver goes the more risk that the pressure, that heaviness, pushing back air-even the air in his lungs-up the hose to the surface. With the system we are using if the pump fails, only the air inside the hose will flow back because the canvas hose will collapse. And there is no air connection to air in his lungs or the bell. If it sucks anything it will suck water. We'll test the pumps for their ability to push air to various depths, but I have some plans for a simple double cylinder rotary one that ought to work."

She had to start explaining again and drawing pictures.

Fermin Mazalet shook his head. "This is more complex than I thought. The barge, yes. But the barrel? All those iron hoops? And the reinforcing to the top of the thing? It's more like a battering ram than something for going under the sea. And the weight of it… I'm not sure we'll get it to work…"

"Look at it from the bright side," Lars quipped. "Even if it doesn't work, our treasure sits in plain sight. We could even lash ourselves to the mainmast if there is a storm."

"Lash ourselves to the mainmast?" Per shook his head. "What would be the point of that?"

"It's the done thing," said Lars, with a seriousness only betrayed by a tiny twitch. "In all the best stories."

Mazalet shook his head in bemusement. The Lennartson brothers were unlike any other Swedes he knew. The common people in Stockholm were a solid and dependable lot. They were not exactly dull, but not given to much frivolity either. His divers were different. They were inventing commercial diving on an ad hoc basis, solving problems at a frightening rate, and with an incongruously off-hand manner. Sometimes they even came up with solutions to problems that Mazalet had not even been aware of. Despite the summer heat, the Frenchman shuddered. Mazalet was honest enough, with himself at least, to realize that his contributions had become increasingly irrelevant. Some of his own half-baked solutions would probably have killed the crew, and Mazalet had come to look forward to Per's explanations with a sort of dreadful fascination. He'd perchance found men who would, if not salvage the bronze cannon, at least make it look very tempting to investors. He swayed between belief and the warm and cozy feel of a good scam coming together. "If you weren't so clever… If that piglet you used had not lived for a good twenty minutes beneath the water surface inside the barrel, I would be tempted to have you all committed as madmen."

"The piglet was mad enough when we untied it," said Lars. "I think all Stockholm heard it. That nosy Norwegian certainly did. Good thing you sent him away."

"He looks like a pirate and is most certainly a spy. But I heard you filling him with tales of men walking to the deepest depths with our pumps."

"He was buying the drinks. And we know that cannot work like that. You cannot pump air to very deep without a very good non-return valve. That is not that easy to make. Our system works. That will not. "

Mazalet looked suspiciously at him. "How do you know? I have seen pictures."

"We know," said Per smiling. "You see… we must introduce you to our partner. At the workshed."

It was barely ten yards away from the quayside where they had been talking, and Fermin Mazalet found himself being led out of the sun and into the half dark where Karl and Olof were working on the windlass, with a pair of local carpenters… and a familiar face.

"Monsieur Mazalet. Perhaps you have some books you would like to return?" said someone he thought safely in Grantville Library.

Mazalet's eyes nearly started out of his head. Then he started to laugh. "I have always said you could not cheat an honest man. Now I have proved it to myself, on myself. You out-thought me, mam'zelle. Well done."

"You don't seem angry, monsieur," said Ginny. "I expected trouble, to be honest. Until we brought you to your senses, that is."

Mazalet shrugged. "What would be the point? I have a project now that may well even succeed… and shares which have become vastly valuable. The local wealthy folk may not trust Fermin Mazalet. But they do believe in the technological advantages of Grantville. And you need me for my connections at least. But I wonder why you came out of hiding now."

Per answered. "Because tomorrow we do our first test and she wants to be there. And this afternoon would be too late, because you have arranged for us to see Nya Nyckeln."

"Good afternoon, fellows. I'm Lieutenant Sparre, the admiral's aide." The smallish officer looked none too pleased with his task, but there was no scorn in his voice. "Word's came down from on high that you boys need a guided tour to one of our largest ships."

"The largest," Lars answered. "Or the one that looks most like Vasa anyway."

Sparre made a tching sound. "Another attempt at a salvage!"

"Is there a problem?" Per asked.

"Well, yes." The young officer looked uncomfortable. "I trust I can rely on your discretion?"

"Of course," Lars said gaily. "All Delsbo boys like to talk."

"He means you should keep your mouth shut," Karl said.

"No problem," Lars said. "We're real good at that, too."

Lieutenant Sparre tugged his jaw. "Several of my peers lost friends and family when Vasa sank and there has been a lot of bad feeling about the whole thing."

"Yeah," Lars said, "Like the ship not being seaworthy."

"Shut up!" Per snapped. "I'll do the talking from now on." He pushed forward towards Sparre and bowed from the waist. "My brothers are fresh from the north," he said. "Please, forgive them some naive bluntness."

"No matter," Sparre said stiffly. "Nya Nyckeln is waiting. Please follow me." He turned abruptly and walked down towards the half-finished hulls still propped up on their slipways.

"Nya Nyckeln," Sparre said half proud, half sad. "Maybe the last of her kind."

"Almost as big as a church boat back home," Lars murmured.

Per stared. Nya Nyckeln, the New Key, was huge, almost twice the size of most naval ships, and sitting on her slipway, her entire hull towered over the group of people, reducing them into insignificance.

"She's the size of Vasa?" he asked in a quiet voice.

"Yes," Sparre said. "Somewhat broader of beam and with a little more draft, but close enough."

"That's a tall order," Karl said. "Lifting her in one piece I mean."

"It can't be done," a nasal voice interjected. "It was tried and nothing good came out of it."

Per turned and looked into a florid face made no prettier by being drawn into a supercilious sneer.

"Fellows," Lieutenant Sparre said formally. "This is Captain Stolpeskott." He shrugged. "Sorry, Captain, but I am acting on orders from the admiral himself.

"Letting unlettered peasants aboard his majesty's ships," Stolpeskott sneered. "Well, I heard that it was that slimy frog Mazalet who's got the contract, so I probably shouldn't be too surprised. Drinking and whoring is all those papists are good for." He turned abruptly and disappeared toward the administrative buildings.

"I'd ask you to forgive the captain," Sparre said quietly. "His brother was on the Vasa."

"Of course," Per said looking along the stupendous hull. "Are those the gun ports?"

"Why, yes." Sparre smiled. "Of course, the guns are added last, usually with a crane after the ship is already in the water."

"Could we see a gun like those on Vasa?" Per asked. "One of those cranes would be interesting, too."

"Certainly." Sparre motioned towards another building. "We'll get there in a moment." He smiled in an odd way. "Maybe I should ask to be assigned as the naval liaison." He shrugged in an eloquent way. "Anything to get away from Stolpeskott."

It was an unusually quiet group of northerners that left the naval dockyard some hours later. Finally the enormity of their task had actually dented the confidence of Delsbo. Dented, but not broken. They were all there the next morning when the barge was towed out to the mast tops sticking out above the water.

It appeared to be getting to the Frenchman, too. He might be a swindler, but Fermin Mazalet was no cold-blooded murderer. "Are you certain about this?" he asked, looking at the bell. "Shouldn't we test her somewhere else first?"

"Where?" Per asked. "All shipping avoids this site. No one wants to run afoul of a sunken spar. That makes it a perfect spot." He grinned. "Also, as you've explained, it pays to advertise. No matter how it goes, people will know we've come this far, at least. The admiralty will see us out here."

"There is that," Mazalet said with a quick nod. "Funding might become less of a problem."

"Are we strapped for cash?" Karl asked.

"Not really," Mazalet said, "but it never hurts to spread the risk. I plan to sell a few shares in the salvage project."

Karl frowned. "Won't that decrease our share?"

"Not really." Mazalet repeated. "To my knowledge, it never has, anyway."

"All anchors are in place," Captain Sigismund reported. "We might drift a foot or two but hardly more."

"Very good." Per nodded. "Start pumping air."

"Is that really necessary?" Mazalet asked. "I mean, they'll be tired long before the bell even hits the water."

"That's why we have replacements." Per lowered his voice. "It's my brothers going down there, and we're taking enough chances as it is already. Pumps start before anyone goes inside the bell and don't stop until the last diver is back on deck. Any man who forgets that will go along for the next dive. Outside the bell.

"Divers to the bell," he shouted. "Check the air and keep your feet up." He waited as Lars and Olof ducked to get through the little port in the weighted edge of the bell and scrambled inside. The port was below the air-bleed holes, and if they wished to exit it once they were down, they would have to swim.

Olof's voice sounded strange, coming from inside the bell. "We're ready to go."

"Good." Per shouted. "Remember, we'll only lower you a few feet at a time so if something happens, you just go outside and swim to the surface." He turned around and signalled to Karl. "All right, remove the planks and go ahead with the crane when you're ready. Remember, just a few feet at a time."

Karl grinned. "Don't worry, big brother. By now I can do this in my sleep." He watched as the last plank was pulled aside, and motioned his men towards the windlass.

"Everyone got a hold? Good." Karl nodded. "Good. Can you feel the weight? My brothers' lives are hanging on your shoulders. Don't make me regret picking you for this job." There were tight grins from the men, but no one looked strained. "On my mark," Karl said, "you will all take one step backwards. Ready, steady, go."

"Here we go," Lars said gleefully as the diving bell rose from the deck. "The first lads since Jonah to walk the bottom of the sea."

"Don't tell our boss," Olof complained. "Thanks to you he really believes we've done this for generations. Don't make him change his mind."

Lars face hardened in the gloom. "Don't you think we can do it?" he challenged. "There is nothing we can't do if we really try."

"We can't fly," Olof said.

"Of course we can." Lars grinned. "You just wait and see. With all the money from Vasa, we can build some other machine."

"One that flies?"

"Why not," Lars said serenely. "We're from Delsbo, and Per is really clever. Nothing is impossible."

Olof stood up on his seat. "The pump is still working anyway; I can feel the air coming in."

"Told you so." Lars looked down into the water. "The counterweight is barely under the surface yet," he muttered. "What's taking Karl so long?"

"He's being careful, Brother."

"It's something he should try with women. Ah. That's more like it!" Lars chuckled as the bottom of the bell slid into the water. "It gets dark fast though," he noted.

"Get used to it," said Olof gloomily. "Miss Ginny says it will be pitch black down there."

"Good thing we have a lamp, then."

"Ja." There was silence, only disturbed by the bubbling air coming up from the hose. The bell slowly sank, with the pressure increasing. "We will only go to five fathoms," said Lars, comforting himself. "We could swim up from that."

"We could, but we are not going to," said Olof.

"No," said Lars, "But I am going to swim outside, little brother."

"But we are not supposed to. This is a test." As if to emphasise that the little bell connected by wire to the surface tinged. Olof tugged the reply ringer.

"Ja. But I am just a little scared, brother. If I don't do it now, I will never do it. And we are promised to the enterprise." He took a coil of rope and tied himself to the end. "You can haul me back in if I get into trouble. I will tug hard, twice, if I need you to do that." He smiled ruefully, and pointed at the surface. "Besides, the Frenchman wanted something to prove we'd been down here. Let me see what I can find."

"Does Per know of this plan?"

Lars shook his head. "He probably guesses I will by now. He knows me. And I think he was planning to do the same thing if he had won at the drawing of the straws."

Olof bit his lip "You have your knife? You remember Ginny said the greatest danger was from becoming entangled."

Lars patted it. The bell's descent had stopped and he slipped down into the water. Olof also knew his older brother. For Lars to have admitted fear was unheard of. Olof knew nothing would stop him defeating it. So he held the rope and prayed.

After what seemed a long, long time, just as he was ready to start hauling rope anyway, it went slack. He took in. He breathed a sigh of relief when his brother's head popped up. And then he screamed.

"Ach. It's just the poor fellow's skull. It came loose when I started to cut him free of the rigging. He should have taken Ginny's advice and had a sharp knife with him."

Olof shuddered and refused to take the skull. "What have you done with the body?"

"Still out there. I will tie him on to the other end of the rope. His uniform is holding him together."

There was a silence. Then Olof reached out and took the skull with its tatters of hair. "He needs a Christian burial," he said, "whoever he was."

"Ja. Besides, this is exactly the kind of evidence Mazalet was looking for."

Olof giggled suddenly.

"What?" Lars asked.

"I can't wait to see Karl's face when he first puts his eyes on the skull."

"There is that, too," Lars admitted with a grin. "Wish me luck."

"You don't need any," Olof said. "You'll be doing the Lord's work out there."

"Then I wish that he made water just a little warmer." Lars sucked in a huge breath and slid down into the water. Working his way along the spar, he wrapped a rope around the corpse and pulled himself back into the bell.

"A boat hook would work," he muttered, as he hung from the rungs taking huge gulps of air. "This bell hangs lightly in the water."

Lars dived back outside and worked his way back to the corpse. It was harder this time. As Ginny had said, the water had turned misty with silt and Lars had to touch the body far more than he was comfortable with to make sure it was secured. Finally, after four trips, he climbed inside and, with Olof's help, pulled off his clothes. Shivering, he dried himself. "I've had my fill of water for one day. I need to feel the sun on my skin."

Olof nodded fervently.

***

Fermin Mazalet looked around his crew and bowed deeply.

"Gentlemen, lady", he said. "Today, we've made history. Tonight the beer is on me.

"And tomorrow?" Lars Lennartson called out.

"Tomorrow," Mazalet said slowly. "Tomorrow we'll follow that unfortunate sailor to his last rest. We'll probably never know who he was, but the Lord almighty knows his own and Lieutenant Sparre agrees that a member of the Swedish Navy deserves a proper burial."

The small liaison officer nodded briefly. "I do so think," he said stiffly. "And I'll so inform the admiral." Then he smiled slightly. "Don't let that dampen your spirits tonight. My preliminary report will cite your exemplary conduct, and I do look forward to see what new miracles you can bring about."

They were the toast of the town. Per flinched as yet another roaring reveller threw him a hearty backslap. Unlike his own free-living neighbours from the north, the people of Stockholm were staid and sober people, but tonight they had abandoned their usual reserve. Vasa's shipwreck had deeply affected many families, and Lars' spur of the moment decision to retrieve the drowned lookout had struck exactly the right chord with the whole town. The funeral, originally to be held at the naval yard, had been postponed until Sunday and would take place in Stockholm's largest church.

Per winced again. The festivity was all very nice, but the sun had burnt his back and shoulders to flaking cinder and every movement hurt. Adding insult to injury, the locals had a real penchant for bracing backslaps, delivered with calloused hands and serious good cheer. Per had spent most of the evening with his back against the wall. He drained his mug and looked around. The tavern was packed to the rafters and there was more than the usual share of gold and lace about. Lars, slightly drunk, told tall tales of his underwater adventures, while Olof sat at a table talking earnestly to Lieutenant Sparre. Karl was nowhere to be seen, and Per made yet another mental note to investigate his handsome sibling's current love life. The brothers had the chance of several lifetimes, rising in society almost as fast as the bell sank towards the bottom. This was no time for indiscriminate dallying.

Then a sudden current in the sea of people caught his eye. People moved aside as the tall and sombre Admiral Fleming strode into the room. Before Per could move, Mazalet disengaged himself from his company and bowed deeply before the admiral. Per could not hear what was said, but suddenly Fleming smiled and made his way toward him. Per groaned and steeled himself. Braving the pain, he bowed deeply, even as Mazalet waved him forward.

"Your Grace. This is Master Per Lennartson, my chief diver," said the Frenchman.

"Ah. The divers from famous Delsbo," Admiral Fleming said with an almost straight face, betrayed only by an irrepressible twitch of the lips. "You are fortunate to have found such experienced men, Mazalet. I hear you plan to go down with them yourself tomorrow?"

Mazalet nodded. "I was just telling Captain Stolpeskott."

"Well. You must take care, monsieur." Fleming held out a hand to Per. Slowly, hesitantly, not really believing his eyes, Per stretched forth his own hand. The admiral showed no hesitation. He grasped Per's hand in his own big paw and shook heartily. Then he turned back to Mazalet. "Tell the innkeeper to bring up some of his best. The crown pays."

"Of course, Your Grace." Mazalet said. "I'll go look for the man myself."

The admiral watched the departing Frenchman for a moment, and then he turned back to Per. "I met the last member of your partnership at a levee two nights ago," he said with a broad wink. "She told me how Mazalet obtained his books, and of the great divers of Delsbo." He started to chuckle. "It makes a pleasant change for us Swedes to enjoy a private joke at the expense of these oh-so-sophisticated foreigners. And I have obtained copies of the agreement from Consul Boelcke. The crown is in your debt, boy. I shall see it is honored."

"Thank you, Your Grace."

Fleming patted him on the shoulder. "I have my own reasons," he said with a hint of sadness, "and we'll speak more in the future. Good evening to you, Master Per." And with that he turned to leave.

Per stood a movement clearing his head. For reasons of his own, Sweden's highest naval officer had just given a promise to a rural nobody. They were fishing in deep waters indeed. He just wished Ginny was here to consult with. She'd spent part of every day with them now for the last month… and yes, he was a rural nobody, but one with whom Admiral Fleming had personally spoken. Even a nobody in that position could dream a little.

"Perhaps next time," Per said shaking his head firmly. "You are good at money matters, Herr Mazalet. But you do not swim as well as we men of Delsbo. And this is early days yet. Today we bring up a deck cannon from the main deck." And with that he and Lars climbed into the bell.

Ginny watched as the clumsy thing was swung into the water. She wondered just how hard you trailed a lure for Per to notice it… and her. Well, it was improving her Swedish. And Consul Boelcke was right. There really wasn't enough for a full day's work at the consulate. She would just watch the bell sink and then Toke-Karin would row her to the foundry to see how well they were coming along with the dive helmets.

Ginny watched as the bell sank down, with the comforting stream of life-giving bubbles rushing upward. And then she yelled, "STOP! Lift the bell. Now!"

"Raise it," said Karl firmly to his team. And then he ran over to her on the edge of the barge. "What is it?"

She pointed. "Air is coming out of the hose. Not the escape holes on the edge of the bell."

"My God! The canvas must have broken. Thank heaven, you spotted it!"

But the sturdy canvas tube was not broken.

It had been slashed.

"But who would try to kill us?" said Lars, for about the fifth time.

"I have enemies," said Mazalet.

"So does Sweden," said Captain Stolpeskott, sneering at him. "Enemies who would be glad to see this fail. And you'd take money from anyone."

Mazalet stood up slowly. "Captain. At least Lieutenant Sparre has manners. Yours more closely resemble those of a pig. And you are nearly as clever as one, too. I was planning to go down with the bell. Now, would you like to name your seconds, sir?"

"There will be none of this," said Per firmly. "Lars. Cut the damaged section out, and you and Olof reattach the hose. Captain Stolpeskott, Mazalet. You two are coming down with us. You may wish to change your clothes."

Stolpeskott looked at Per incredulously. "Are you mad?"

"Probably," said Per. "But you Navy people were here before us this morning, and you've shown your contempt for Herr Mazalet. If Mazalet is with us, he can hardly be engaged in sabotage. If someone wished us to fail-the best thing we can do is to succeed. Today. And if you fight down there, Lars and I will deal with you. You will have no swords and no pistols. Of course if you are too scared…"

Stolpeskott stood up straight. "Scared, you peasant? I am an officer of the Swedish Navy."

"Good," said Mazalet, taking off his shoes. "As we're about to go onto the deck of a royal ship, you should be with us."

"You are going down?" asked Stolpeskott, shaking his head.

Mazalet nodded. "I am not afraid."

Stolpeskott plainly was, but was left with no way out. "Pull my boots off," he said stiffly to Per.

"Get one of your men to do it," said Per shortly. "I am going to check the equipment very carefully. You want me to do that, don't you?"

Ginny got the helmet maker to come to her. She decided she wasn't leaving the barge until Per… and the others came up. After an eternity… something did. It was a messenger buoy. Whatever else was happening in the cramped lamplight down there, they had also managed to get a rope onto a cannon. The brass barrel was hauled to the surface a few minutes later. Ginny had to comfort herself that they were at least alive. Then Karl began the slow haul, following the tables that Ginny had written out for him. They eventually swung the bell out as well. Stolpeskott was the first out, looking both pale and relieved. And deflated from his normal bombastic self. He staggered across to a bench.

Then came Karl and Per, grinning. "Did you get the cannon up?"

Ginny found herself unable to speak. She pointed to it, as Mazalet climbed out of the bell. He walked over to her, as the others went to admire the first booty, with the lion embossing still crisp on it. Mazalet mopped his brow. "I will never admit this to them, but they earn too small a share in this venture. I braved the swim a little. The water is barely above freezing and it is not very much warmer in that bell. And you can wring the air out. But it took the bravado out of our captain. He plans to complain to the admiral." Mazalet looked at the cannon. "Let him. When Fleming sees those come up, he's more likely to order the idiot to accompany us. The boys want to try for another now. They're stronger men than I."

"What would you have done," Ginny asked, "if Stolpeskott had wanted a duel?"

"It would have been unfortunate." A Gallic shrug. "I gave lessons in swordfighting."

Mazalet's prediction proved accurate. Admiral Fleming was indeed more than happy to have some of his officers take part in the exercise, and willing to have the bell guarded night and day. It was just a little more difficult to find officers keen to do this. Only Lieutenant Sparre was regularly willing. It was equally difficult to get Mazalet back into the bell until the deck cannons were up. But, a few weeks later, with the new helmet system working-with air pumped from those in the bell-the Frenchman decided to do so. Admiral Fleming had requested that the divers try to retrieve the log-if it was still in one piece, and the astrolabe from the captain's chamber. "The captain's widow has asked for it for her son," said Fleming quietly. "The request has the blessing of His Majesty himself."

Naturally, as the admiral was going to be aboard, Mazalet wanted to go down. Well, as Lars remarked, at least he could be relied on to keep the helmet pump working.

But on his way back the air stopped bubbling. "Lord and saints!" Per swore inside his helmet. "What are they doing back there?" Trying to remain calm he began heading back to the bell. The water around it was still murky and stirred up. With relief Per pulled himself into the port and up the ladder, breaking the surface… face to muzzle with a huge cavalry pistol.

"Please stay where you are," Lieutenant Sparre said. "I haven't hurt your brother, but that will change if you do something rash." Slowly, Per lowered himself into the water.

"What are you doing?" Per asked.

Sparre wiped water from his brow. The lieutenant was soaking wet, evidently he, too, had been outside the bell. "I've cut away the messengers and the air hose," he said. "That way you won't be able to inform the surface."

"They'll still know something is wrong," Per said. "But what are you up to, Lieutenant? You're the last one I'd have pegged for a traitor."

Sparre smiled sadly. "It's not about treason, Master Per. I'm loyal to the king, but this is a personal matter." His smile twisted into a rictus of hate. He pointed a shaking finger at Mazalet. "This man ruined my uncle," he snarled. "He spun tales of alchemy and industry, and my uncle lost most of the family money chasing moonbeams. He ruined my life, my family and my chances of marriage."

"I tricked Fleming's nephew, too," Mazalet murmured groggily, blood oozing from his scalp. "Is the admiral in on this?"

"Of course not," Sparre spat. "This is about the honor of my family."

"I'm an idiot," Per mumbled. "From the first accident I thought it was Stolpeskott."

"Hans has nothing to do with it either," Sparre said. "I doubt he'll shed any tears, but he's quite innocent."

"It was you who slit the hose then?" Per asked.

Sparre nodded. "This bastard of a Frenchman was supposed to go down that day."

"So what will you do?" Per asked. "You can kill us all, I suppose, but you'll look very strange coming up all alone."

"I won't be coming up," Sparre said, that sad smile back on his face. "You're such an honorable man, Master Per, that I sometimes forget you're a peasant at heart. To a nobleman the answer would be obvious. I've detached the shackle. Replaced it with a broken one. I have cut the air hose. We will all die down here. The salvage project will die too…"

"For which," said Mazalet, "The French will pay handsomely." Sparre stared at him.

Mazalet shrugged. "The offer was made to me. But I don't even rob honest men, let alone kill them."

"Heavens above," Ginny breathed looking into the water. "It's the hose. It's the air hose!" she shouted, but Karl was there already, his face pale under the tan.

"Keep pumping!" he roared waving to the crew. "Are they dead?" he asked.

"No way to know," Ginny said, trying hard to stay calm. "Start to raise the bell. At least we won't have to get the hose down very far. Even for Per and Olof-they haven't been much deeper than fifty-five feet on this dive. They've been down about ninety-three minutes. We'll need fourteen minutes at the ten foot mark."

The windlass began to turn. "There is no weight on it, Karl," yelled a horrified sailor.

"Stop!" shouted Lars. "Lower slowly. To the same depth and three feet."

"Why?" demanded Karl.

"They can reattach it. They can't if we have it here."

"Not if they don't have air. Or something is wrong…"

"So we get the air hose down. If they have air, they can solve any problems. Right now they don't have very long."

"How do we do that?" Karl asked looking at the hose.

"We sink it," Lars said. "The hose looks good, it moves like a snake with every spurt of air. We don't need to replace it, and that should save us time."

"Good." Karl said. "We tie the hose to a weight and send it down along the main hawser."

Ginny nodded. "That would work as far as it goes, but how will they get the hose inside? How will they know it is down?"

"We could rig something," Lars voice trailed off.

Ginny took a deep breath. "I'll go down," she said. "I swim far better than all of you. They're on the aftercastle. That stood sixty-five feet high. It shouldn't be more than forty feet down. None of you could swim that, but I can. I'll go down and then inside. As soon as I'm in, one of the others can go out with a helmet and reattach the hose and the hawser. We don't even need the shackle, a big knot will do."

"You can't do that!" Karl flared. "Per wouldn't allow that. Come to think of it, neither would Monsieur Mazalet."

"There isn't much they can do about it." Ginny said. "And I doubt they'll kick me out on principle."

"Too dangerous," Lars said. "I'll do it."

"No. You work well under water, but I am a far, far better swimmer." Ginny smiled and pulled a thin book from her pocket. "Here are the dive tables. They are in Swedish, and Boelcke has the original info in his safe."

Lars looked at her slowly and thoughtfully "Besides," he said, "you didn't come back three centuries in time just to lose your love to the water."

"Mazalet?" Karl asked, gaping.

"No, dummy," Lars said, "Per."

Ginny nodded ruefully. "Pull the hose towards the ship, but don't wind it up. Keep the loops separated."

"You want the hose or a rope?" Lars asked, while Karl still goggled.

"A rope, I think." Ginny said. "The hose might snag and break. Pulling the hose down will be heavy with all the air but there are five of us. We'll manage. I'll want a dive weight."

Karl shook his head in disbelief. Then he walked across the deck, bent down and grabbed a small cannon. "Think this one will work?" he asked.

"No," Ginny said. "Or rather, it might hole the bell. A cannon ball-smallish. In a sack."

"Right." Lars said. "I'll loop a short piece of rope around the hawser so that you stay close to the bell. You hold that in one hand, the bag in the other, and the rope around your waist. One tug to attach the air hose, two for a bit more rope." He took his belt and knife off. "In case of snags, ja. Anything else?"

Admiral Fleming had walked over with two of his men. Ginny nodded. Blushed. "I can't do this in a skirt. Admiral, will you have your men turn their backs while I jump over?"

It was Fleming's turn to gape. "What? What is happening?"

"The hose has come adrift. We need to get it back to the bell," said Ginny calmly. "Now please tell your men to turn around. Now. We don't have much time to get the air down." She knew that the rush was not quite so dire, but she couldn't bear not knowing. She didn't even wait for a reply, just unbuttoned her skirt. Hyperventilated. And jumped.

The water was not too bad at the surface… but it grew colder as she passed through the thermocline and down, pulled by the cannon ball. She'd dived to thirty feet before… once. She equalized. Visibility was not great but she could see-to her relief-the shape of the bell, slightly off to one side. She equalized again, and reached the deck… Now she had to somehow not let go of her weight, or she would have simply begun to ascend. And, burning to breathe, she had to cross the few yards to the bell… and her limbs were quite weak with the bitter cold.

Somehow she did it, letting her breath out as she grasped the lowest rung. If there was no air within she was dead, long before she could reach the surface again.

Per had been weighing options. Both Olof and Mazalet were tied up. Should he duck underwater and try and swim for the surface? He knew what the consequences would be. He still tensed to do it. But Lieutenant Sparre must have read his intentions. "If you do, I will shoot your brother. Come out of the water.

Per moved slowly. First, he was very cold. Second, he needed to think. And third… well, there was no third. Sparre was going to at very least hit them on the head. All he needed was a distraction.

He was at the top of the ladder when he got it.

Bubbles.

It nearly stopped him in his tracks.

It didn't stop his younger brother kicking Sparre. The gun boomed-incredibly loud in the confined space. Per launched himself, feeling the bullet burn his ribs. Mazalet had used his head and butted the lantern, which went out. Per grappled in the darkness.

Ginny's head burst into the bell to a deafening explosion and sudden darkness. But there was air. Thick, moist and stale. Air… And the sound of fighting.

"Per?" she called, feeling for Lars' knife. Had Mazalet gone mad?

The little lieutenant was insanely strong. Well, he probably was insane. And he had a knife. He'd managed to cut Per's face. And then, suddenly there was a voice Per had only expected to hear in heaven again. Perhaps he was dead. Well, if Ginny was here… He'd better deal with this madman. He grabbed hair and hit the fellow's head against the oak so hard that the bell rang. Then he did it again. "Ginny?" he said shakily.

"Are you all right?"

"I think so. Or am I dead? How did you get here?"

"I swam down."

Per's heart sank. He couldn't say anything.

"With a rope to haul the air hose down."

"Dear God!" said Mazalet.

"Brother," said Olof. "Stop fooling around and go see to our lady. Then you can cut us free."

So Per felt his way to the ladder, still unable to speak. But he could feel her arms around him.

Olof coughed. "Now, can you cut us free and we can haul the airhose down, light the lantern and see what Sparre hit with that pistol shot."

It took a little time to achieve all that. The ball was lodged in the four-inch-thick planks. Per had pushed Sparre's head nearly as deep into the wood. And the bubbling air was the sweetest thing Per had ever felt, except for Ginny's fingers twined in his.

On the surface, Karl timed. He did not look away. He'd seen enough women nearer naked than that. When the count reached one eighty he stopped just sweating and went cold. The rope stopped moving.

Karl prayed. He knew he did not pray alone.

And then… two tugs. "Get that airhose attached," he yelled, tears starting in his eyes. "Now, Lars!" In the city they must be wondering what the cheering was for this time. Karl sat down, weak-kneed with relief, as Lars tied on the hose, and it slipped away into the water.

By the time the bell was raised-and, with allowing for decompression that was a good while-the barge was in danger of sinking with the people crowded onto her. Toke-Karin and the other rowers had never had such a day. The water around the barge was full of boats packed with onlookers. The story had crossed the city like wildfire. It wasn't just the admiral and Consul Boelcke and his wife waiting, anxious and hoping.

Then the bell broke the surface and the real cheering started. Olof was first out. Dragging a near-naked lieutenant.

Then came Mazalet, then, as Karl and Lars held their breath, their oldest brother, bandaged and bloody but smiling-giving a hand to Ginny.

And the cheering reached a new crescendo.

Admiral Fleming stepped forward… and bowed respectfully. "Stockholm never raised a greater treasure, nor a braver lady, from the deep, " he said, kissing her hand.

Ginny smiled, not letting go of Per.

Per hugged her hard. "We'll bring more treasures up." he said. "We'll bring the whole ship up in time. Still, Herr Admiral, I agree with you."

A Gift from the Duchess

Virginia DeMarce

"3. 'If I have to live through a revolution I would rather make it than suffer from it.' What did Bismarck mean by this statement and what was the character of the revolution he helped make?"

– Matt Trelli's vague recollection

of an essay exam question

once formulated by Miss Mailey.

Bozen, Tirol

October 1633

"Tell me again. Why I should send the three best plague doctors in the pay of the government of Tyrol and Upper Austria to Franconia? One of whom is the personal physician for my children and myself? And keep on paying them while they are there? Our budget…"

Claudia de Medici, twenty-nine years old and twice widowed, regent for her five-year-old son of the particular, specific, and independent-from-Austria-proper Habsburg duchy called Tirol, leaned back in her chair and looked at the board of medical consultants, gently tapping the end of the wonderful new fountain pen that the merchant Vignelli had brought back from his latest trip into the United States of Europe against her bracelet.

Vignelli had purchased a dozen. He had given one to her and one to the chancellor, Dr. Bienner. A half dozen to his most important business contacts in Bozen and Venice. The others, presumably, were being taken apart by the artisans in his employ, with a plan to expand the profits that were rolling in from his "duplicating machines" by adding "mechanical pens" to his product line. Already, he had changed the name of his enterprise to "Vignelli's European Office Supplies." All of which was good for Tirol's tax base, of course. It would be even better if Vignelli's people could make a better typewriter and adding machine than the ones coming out of Magdeburg. The man had spent an exorbitant amount to obtain prototypes. Still…

She returned her attention to the three men standing at the other end of the conference table.

Paul Weinhart, the personal physician in question, had been watching his ruler. Her auburn curls were threatening to burst out of the clips and pins that were supposed to be restraining them. Her brown eyes were snapping. On mornings such as this, it was best to proceed carefully. He cleared his throat. "We all do have practical experience in controlling plague outbreaks…" he began. For twenty minutes, he continued. "Of course, my lady, you may say that it is absurd of us to undertake such a thing at our ages," he finished.

"I have not said so."

"If I had a qualified son…" Weinhart's voice trailed off. "But my wife and the boys born in my first marriage all died in the plague of 1610-1611 in Innsbruck. Perhaps if we had these up-time devices then, the DDT, the medicaments… But that is irrelevant. The children of my second marriage are still young. Ignaz, the oldest boy, is only seventeen. Franz sixteen. Paul and Caspar are just starting Latin school."

"Do you need to go now?"

Weinhart shook his head. "The up-timers have quarantined Kronach, of course. In addition to the fact that the commander has closed the city gates from the inside. Quarantine is really the only way to control spread of plague. Total quarantine. But it's hard on the people inside the lines if there's no decent hospital and no enforcement of destroying the bedding and clothing. If it were summer, it would be a public health emergency already, but winter is coming. The plague almost always becomes less fierce in cold weather. Kronach should survive the winter."

Guarinoni intervened. His early education by the Jesuits was never very far from his mind. Next to medicine, perhaps even above medicine, returning the lapsed peoples of Europe to the Catholic faith was his passion. "If we don't go, there won't be any Catholics left in Kronach for us to assist. In the spring and summer of 1634, if they have not opened the walls, a Catholic city, the fiercest Catholic city in Franconia, may die. There is time to prepare. Time for us to learn more about Grantville and time for them to learn more about our capabilities. We can assist these up-timers in Bamberg with the outbreak at Kronach, Your Grace, but we can also learn from them at the same time. While serving God and the Church. But it must be soon."

Claudia de Medici continued to tap her fountain pen on her bracelet for quite some time after she dismissed them. Then she pulled the written proposal toward her and started to read. After a few moments, she picked it up and walked to the window.

Wilhelm Bienner, watching the regent, wondered if Dr. Weinhart, also, had noted the restlessness that the regent's self-discipline was barely keeping leashed these last few months. The duchess was tired of merely sending an occasional merchant who could double as a researcher to Grantville, no matter how fascinating the music and other information they brought back. Was Weinhart perceptive enough to be offering a route by which she could take a larger part on the stage of Europe? He untied a packet of the unending paperwork that made government function, rolled up the red tape that had tied it neatly, and started to scribble marginal comments.

Two hours later, Duchess Claudia returned to the table. He looked up, waiting.

"Let's send them to Franconia. But not only them and not only to Franconia. There must be something to toss to Leopold's brother in Vienna, as one tosses a bone to a dog. Let Vienna have the musicians. And the music. Ferdinand's spirits are in need of cheering, I hear. So. A harmless distraction. What trouble can this sentimental play about a pious up-time Austrian girl who married a baron possibly cause?"

Outside the Walls of Kronach, Franconia

October 1633

Winter was setting in hard, already. It had snowed five or six inches overnight-hard to tell exactly how much, with the wind whipping it around-but cleared off at dawn. Matt Trelli stood with his binoculars fixed on the Rosenberg fortress at Kronach.

The old commander must have died. Or be sick, at least. He hadn't been out on the walls for-Matt thought a minute-not for a couple of weeks now.

A gust whipped around the corner of his lookout. Up-time, Matt Trelli figured, he'd been as pious as most Catholics. At least, as pious as most Catholics with divorced parents and a remarried father with whom he wanted to stay on reasonably good terms. Mr. Piazza had never complained in CCD classes.

Here, though, down-time… he remembered to thank God for some of the weirdest things. This morning, the topic was "thermal underwear, sincere gratitude for." With a postscript concerning "down parkas, sincere gratitude for." So he wasn't in uniform. What the hell? He was warm. And he had a uniform around somewhere if Cliff Priest or Scott Blackwell should happen to show up.

No real way to tell who had succeeded Neustetter in command. There were two choices.

The first possibility was Francesco de Melon, the Bavarian officer-military adviser Matt thought-whom Maximilian of Bavaria had sent to assist old Neustetter when the war moved into Franconia in 1631. Really, given that any practical assistance was far more likely to come from Maximilian of Bavaria than from the Austrians, Melon had probably been Neustetter's boss, for all practical purposes.

Or the new commander might turn out to be one of the bishop's relatives, a canon in the Bamberg cathedral chapter: Wolf Philipp Fuchs von Dornheim.

Matt hoped it was de Melon. He'd sent off a request to the Research Center in Grantville for anything they could find out about either of the men. Nothing had turned up about Dornheim. Melon, though…

It had taken them a long time. Finally they'd figured out they were supposed to be looking for a Portuguese name instead of the French-sounding one that Vince's informants had given the NUS people in Bamberg. All they had finally come up with was some stuff in a Spanish history book that Mrs. Hernandez at the high school had. Spanish as in-written in Spanish. That's what Mrs. Hernandez taught. Mr. Hernandez too, for that matter. The guy was in the book because he wrote poetry and history. It just mentioned as a sort of afterthought that he'd won some pretty important battles. But lost the last one, which was what military historians seemed to think counted most. Those were a real bunch of "what have you done for me lately" guys. Not that Gustavus Adolphus wasn't.

Don Francisco Manuel de Mello, count of Azumar and marques of Torrelaguna. Not an old guy. He was born in 1611, in Lisbon. Hell-he was five years younger than Matt. But only eighteen months younger than the cardinal-infante up in the Netherlands, and being young hadn't exactly stopped that guy.

Plus. In that other world, when the time came… This kid had succeeded Don Fernando as Spanish regent in the Netherlands. Succeeded the brother of the king of Spain. Preceded the brother of the Holy Roman Emperor. Compared to them, a Portuguese count was just an ordinary guy. So he was likely no nincompoop. It would be… well, it ought to be… easier to negotiate with someone who had smarts than with a dope. Easier to negotiate with someone who didn't want to die by being cooped up in a city suffering from the plague. Not if someone else could somehow get the news across the wall that he had a great career ahead of him.

Assuming that the bishop's relative hadn't come out ahead in the politicking, of course.

Matt swung his binoculars slowly. As the sun rose higher, the light reflecting off the new snow was practically blinding, but it was hard to use the things in combination with sunglasses. There… he focused.

A man on the wall where the old commander used to stand. Magnify. Matt adjusted the lenses.

Young. Straight black hair, dark eyes. Not overweight, but a little jowly. Heavy eyebrows, prominent nose, mustache. Melon, then. Matt grinned. Hi, Bro! He'd fit right in at a Trelli family reunion.

Which cousin are you? He could almost hear Marcie's old maid great-aunts quizzing the guy. What a pair they'd been. Too bad they were up-time if they were still alive. They hadn't been spring chickens, either of them.

Impulsively, he stepped out of the blind and waved.

After only a short pause, the man on the walls of Rosenberg waved back.

Because the great-aunts had wandered through his mind, Matt added another postscript to his prayers. "Abruzzo, Laura Marcella, gratitude for." Marcie was loyal right down to her bone marrow. Whatever other problems he might have, a "Dear John" letter from his fiancee wouldn't ever be one of them.

Marcie was stubborn, maybe. Well, she was stubborn, definitely. But that had its okay side. Once she made up her mind about something, she stuck with it, right to the bitter end.

Bozen, Tirol

November 1633

"So the duchess-regent has approved our proposal." Guarinoni was nearly incoherent with joy.

"How can we get there?" Gatterer asked practically. "Not all of us are as enthusiastic about mountain climbing as you are, Hippolyt."

Weinhart stroked his beard. "It still remains to be seen whether or not the Swede's administrators will accept our presence."

Bamberg, Franconia

December 1633

Vince Marcantonio shook his head. "The duchess-regent of Tyrol is offering the services of these physicians as a free gift. She's paying them herself. It's a matter of hospitality, she says in the letter. It's only gracious for hosts to welcome their guests and thus far seventeenth-century Europe has been remiss in making Grantville properly welcome."

"Timeo Danaos, et dona ferentes."

Wade Jackson scowled. "Can the Latin, Janie."

"Virgil said it because it was a wise thing to say."

Stewart Hawker was sharpening his pencil with a knife. "What does it say?"

"I fear the Greeks, even when they come bearing gifts."

"What was that about?"

"The Trojan horse."

"Oh."

Vince rapped on the table. "What do we know about the duchess?"

Janie Kacere nodded at her husband, who was the economic liaison. He grinned. "Mainly, that as nobles go, she's a savvy businesswoman with an eye to the bottom line. Hell, as corporate sharks go, she's a savvy businesswoman with an eye to the bottom line."

Wade Jackson scowled again. "That Virgil of Janie's could have had a point."

Bamberg, Franconia

February 1634

"Do we know anything about these guys?" Vince Marcantonio asked. "The only thing they seem to have in common is that they all studied medicine at Padua."

"Out of up-time books? Not one damned word about any of them anywhere in Grantville, according to the Research Center."

"So it looks like we'll have to rely on their letters of introduction."

"With a grain of salt."

"A shovel full of rock salt would probably be better. According to the duchess-regent, they practically walk on water. There's something else in common, maybe, which is some connection to the Fugger. Weinhart was born in Augsburg and Gatterer's medical education was partly paid for by a guy in the Tyrol government who married into those bankers. And Guarinoni is a physician for the mines in Schwaz, among a lot of other things."

Janie Kacere picked up the letter. "Guarinoni-that's Guarinonius in Latin-got a job as physician for the royal Damenstift in Hall in Tyrol in 1598." She looked up. "I thought they only had Damenstifte in places like Quedlinburg, where the ladies are Lutherans. Shouldn't they still be nuns in Catholic countries? Anyway…" She kept going. "… he's still got that job. He's also the city physician for Hall, and the physician for the salt springs-I guess that's a kind of health spa-there. Schwaz-that's pretty close to Hall. He also has what looks like a half dozen various honorary memberships. What's the Order of the Golden Fleece? He's set up a specialized botanical garden for Alpine plants. He's a member of the duchess' board of medical consultants-he's been on it since 1617, which is well before the time of the duchess. And he's interested in 'practical hygiene,' whatever they understand by that. She's also sent a couple of his books along for us to read."

"Just a couple."

"There are more than a couple?"

"Quite a few more. Not just Latin, but German, too. Apparently, he's something of a popularizer. One of them is practical advice on dealing with plague, published in Ingolstadt in 1612, Pestilentz Guardien, fur allerley Stands Personen, which would be "Plague Guardian for People of all Ranks," I guess. There's a vernacular book by Weinhart in the pile, too. Short but Comprehensive Instructions on What to Do in the Current Difficult Times. Published in Innsbruck in 1611, so I guess that's on dealing with plague, too. I haven't had time to look at it yet. She's got a lot less to say about Gatterer."

"Okay," Vince said. "Stew, you have your Hearts and Minds people take a look at these books, will you, ASAP. And get a summary back to me."

Bozen, Tirol

February 1634

"Look." Paul Weinhart was waving a newspaper over his head. "The USE has sent its greatest chemist to Venice to teach their secrets to those capable of understanding them. Stone, his name is. The pharmaceuticals man. To Venice, the paper says. Which, of course, means Padua. Perhaps they have some sense after all, these up-timers, to know that Padua is the greatest medical school on the continent."

Gatterer poured each of them a glass of wine. It was rewarding to see proper recognition given to one's alma mater.

Bamberg, Franconia

March 1634

Stewart Hawker winked. "Guarinoni is opposed to premature death. His motto is, "Let's all be gesondt." He wrote a book about it. The title's Grewel der Verwustung Menschlichen Geschlechts. That's something like The Horror of the Decay of the Human Race, if you translate it into English. It's been in print for a quarter-century or more, I think. Not very systematic. We've used bits and pieces of it for the Hearts and Minds pamphlets, some of them. Yeah, that's plagiarism by up-time standards, but whatever works. He's the one who came up with GESONDT." He tossed a Hearts and Minds pamphlet on the table.

"What in hell does that acronym mean, anyway?" Wade Jackson looked at his colleagues in annoyance.

"Well, gesondt is gesund in modern German. Healthy. I've tried to put it into English. Some lines use the same letters in both languages and some don't. For the ones that do, I've got:

"God as the source of all good;

"Eating and drinking-moderately, that is;

"Sleeping and waking-at the proper times and a proper amount of each;

"The next couple don't use the same letters. Or at least, I can't think of any English words that will work, like:

"O-that's Oede, or leisure time, and he talks about avoidance of excess during it. It's a sort of 'you ought not to pig out on junk food or get drunk' for the seventeenth century;

"N-that's Nutzung, or use and exercise of the body. Maybe I could use 'Nuts about exercise,' because he really is.

"Then we're back to something I got English for:

"D-daily fresh air; and

"T-trustful attitude. That seems to involve being up-beat.

"Or maybe, I guess, for that last, an up-timer would be more likely to say 'optimism' or 'confidence.' But for Guarinoni, it really comes back to Trost-'consolation' or 'relying on God,' so he's back where he started."

Janie made a face. "I could have gotten that out of just about any women's magazine on the grocery store shelves up-time."

Stew nodded. "Yup. High school health classes, too. Except that he thinks that being healthy and being holy are pretty much interchangeable, so it's closer to the stuff that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes used to hand out on campus. The body is the temple of the holy spirit and all that stuff. On the other hand, the health advice can't hurt anyone. Good diet, regular exercise, plenty of fresh air. He wrote a whole book on the importance of watering down your wine. Given how drunk people get around here, watering down your wine is probably a good idea."

Stew shuffled through the pile of books the duchess had sent. "And he's absolutely convinced that premarital chastity and post-marital fidelity prevent VD and thus produce healthier children. Which a person has got to admit is perfectly true in a world that doesn't have much in the way of antibiotics. Hey, here's his manual of advice for Christian married couples. The Joy of Sex for the here and now. Right down your alley, Janie." He slid it down the table.

"I took a look at it. It's more on the order of a pre-Cana manual."

"Ah. Well, too bad."

Vince got the meeting back on track. Or tried, at least. "What makes the duchess think that Kronach will let them in? Can we head them off?"

Cliff Priest shook his head. "Telling Duchess Claudia not to send them isn't an option. They're already on their way."

"Right through the middle of a peasant revolt?" Wade Jackson sounded skeptical.

"Well, it hasn't started yet, really. We're just expecting it. They'll probably get here before April."

"They've probably all been through peasant revolts before, anyhow," Stewart Hawker said mildly.

"Yeah. I sort of keep forgetting that they're all over the place."

"The doctors?"

"Naw. Peasant revolts."

Vince could hardly wait for Matt Trelli to arrive. He'd been to Grantville for his first R amp;R in over a year. They'd sent Tom O'Brien up to Kronach to sub for him. When he came through, he would escort the doctors up to Kronach so Tom could come back and contribute his bit to handling the peasant revolt. However a munitions specialist chose to do that.

Vince could hardly wait for the day that the three doctors departed hence into another place. Ever since they set foot in town, Dr. Guarinoni had treated the entire Bamberg administration, up-time and down-time, to large free helpings of his health advice. Bennett Norris would have called it "patented health advice" if they had patents.

He never stopped. Stacey O'Brien told Janie that if the man had been born up-time, he would have found his calling as a motivational speaker holding success seminars at the Holiday Inn for twenty-five dollars a head.

From Stacey, this didn't count as a compliment. She'd said it after Guarinoni gave a critique of her child-rearing methods.

He didn't limit his efforts to the administration, either. He got out and around in the streets of the city. He even-since he turned out to be really and truly pretty famous in this time and place-got an invitation to address the city council.

According to Else Kronacher, the Bamberg Committee of Correspondence had no particular objection to the health component of his message, but wasn't reacting well to the intransigence with which he wrapped it up in Catholic dogma.

As long as they avoided theology, though, he got along great with Willard and Emma Thornton. Most of his practical policies-applied health practices, Vince supposed-fit right in with Mormon ideas about what was good for you.

Weinhart and Gatterer spent their time following Matewski around, observing both his military medicine and his volunteer efforts at the orphanages and city hospital. He didn't seem to mind them. He might have minded Guarinoni, he said honestly to Wade Jackson, but that guy was too busy blowharding to hassle a man who had work to do.

Matt made pretty good time coming up from Wurzburg. Vince sent him and the doctors on their way on a really fast turnaround. In spite of the tension, nobody bothered them, neither the peasants nor the imperial knights. That might be, Matt thought, because there were a lot more peasants than knights, and Vince had a kind of… understanding… with the Ram.

On the Road to Kronach, Franconia

April 1634

Gatterer turned out to be a chatterer. Matt was just as pleased. Kronach was more than a little out of the loop, so he hadn't seen anywhere near as much data on these guys as Vince's inner circle had gotten.

"Dr. Weinhart was a student of Mercurialis, you know."

"Of who? I mean, of whom?"

"A professor at Padua. He is dead, now, for a quarter century, but he was very famous for what up-time you call 'sports medicine.' He wrote De arte gymnastica which isn't about what you call gymnastics, though. It's about caring for the body during exercising it. Mostly, though, Dr. Weinhart writes about diseases of the eyes. He is mostly here because he is, as you say, committed to fighting the plague. And, of course, because he has enough influence with the duchess to get the project approved."

Matt wondered vaguely just how Gatterer had come to hear of sports medicine. Then he thought of various reports about the number of down-time researchers combing through Grantville's books and encyclopedias and pushed it off into the category of not a problem. Of course there was stuff about sports medicine in the high school library and even if there hadn't been, Dr. Daoud, the chiropractor, loved to give classes and seminars.

"Please try to be tactful with Dr. Guarinoni," Gatterer said.

"Why?"

"You must understand. His father, the late Dr. Bartolomeo Guarinoni, was the emperor's personal physician. Logically, one would assume, our Dr. Guarinoni would have started life in a position of advantage. Unfortunately, ah, his parents were not married to one another. Although his father acknowledged him and provided him with an excellent education…"

"Narrow-minded folks talk."

"Precisely. He accompanied his father to the imperial courts-that of Maximilian II and Vienna and that of Rudolf II in Prague. He studied at the University of Padua. Still, every now and then, there is a certain… condescension… that he must cope with. Therefore, if, sometimes, he seems a bit… excessive…"

"Excessive? How?"

"Not everyone appreciates the comedy skits with which he attempted to enliven his book on practical health. Many of them are taken from stage routines. Directly adapted from them, even. But when he tries to get people who have come to him for advice to stand up and act them out…"

"I always hated that when my teachers made us do it. Both when I had to do it myself and when I had to watch other kids."

"But it is a good technique for embedding a concept in the memory. Excellent." Gatterer nodded sagely.

Near the Walls of Kronach

May 1634

Matt pointed down at the figure on the walls of the Rosenberg. The three doctors were taking fascinated turns with his up-time binoculars. "That's de Melon. Actually, he's expecting you. Inside the city, I mean."

"How do you know?"

"Well, we've set up the drop point. We keep the quarantine hard. No meetings with their people. No letting parties outside the walls to bury the dead. But… I'll show you. Over there-see? We've got that table in the middle of this field outside the walls. It's where their militia drills in normal times. We leave things on it and back off about the length of a football field. They come out and pick them up. They leave things on it and go inside again. We come down and pick them up."

"Things?"

"Information, mostly. Negotiations over this and that. So they know you're coming. We gave them a copy of the letters that came from your Duchess Claudia. And both of your books, Dr. Guarinoni and Dr. Weinhart."

"De Melon will receive us?"

"That's not the problem."

Matt smiled at Dr. Weinhart, who shuddered.

"There are two sides to this, you know. Not just 'will he receive you' but 'will good old Matt here let you go.' "

"How can you make conditions? People's lives are at stake."

"They've been at stake here ever since we came down to Franconia. If I don't finally get some kind of cooperation out of these stiff-assed…"

"What conditions are you imposing on them?"

"That if the three of you come into the city, I come too."

Guarinoni gaped at him. Very few people, other than physicians and clergy, voluntarily walked into plague sites.

"And then the quarantine comes down again. My guys don't lift it until they get a plain signal from me that we have an 'all clear.' Or… Look, I'm a realist. A plain signal from someone. The instructions are in my wallet."

Bamberg, Franconia

May 1634

"Weinhart was right. Kronach let the doctors in." Vince Marcantonio's expression didn't match what should have been good news.

"There's a catch." Bennett Morris made the obvious diagnosis.

"Bound to be," Wade Jackson said. "What is it, Vince?"

"Matt went in with them. Turned the command at Kronach over to Bachhausen, the lieutenant from Coburg, and went in with them. Without so much as a 'by your leave' to Cliff Priest or to me."

"Well." Wade flipped his pencil around his thumb. "That much makes sense, at least. He must have known perfectly well that you wouldn't 'leave' him."

"Yeah, he knew. He admits it straight out in the letter he sent us. And points out that this way we're spared from having to court-martial him for disobeying an order."

"What got them in?"

"Matt softened up de Melon and the city council with a lot of propaganda. Guarinoni's an author, too, beyond being a health nut. And a real religious bigot. Poetry. Lives of saints, real and imaginary. Steve Salatto's tame printer down in Wurzburg ordered some of his titles that the duchess-regent didn't send us so Stew Hawker's people could look at them. And an architect. He's designing and building a church dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo. He's paying for it himself. Duchess Claudia was right about that much. The doctors are the kind of people who are heartily welcome in Kronach. Aside from this plague medicine stuff, all three of them are more Catholic than the pope."

Bamberg, Franconia

late June 1634

"Vince, remember what you said about those doctors we sent up to Kronach being more Catholic than the pope?"

"Yeah." Vince Marcantonio yawned. "God, I'm tired."

"Given some of the news that's come in this week, that might not be hard right now." Cliff Priest read out the latest bulletin that Scott Blackwell had just sent up from Wurzburg.

The meeting paused a moment in honor of the disconcerting notion that Larry Mazzare, the parish priest of most of the members of the administration, was now, unexpectedly, Lawrence Cardinal Mazzare, Cardinal Protector of the United States of Europe.

Then, since there was nothing that any of them could do about it, they went back to work. Joe Matewski got together a batch of pamphlets and stuff to send up to Kronach. He looked at the latest arrival. In Amberg, down in the Upper Palatinate, Bill Hudson had been dealing with a diphtheria epidemic for the last six weeks or so. He'd sent an SOS to Grantville, where the doctors had said, basically, "chloramphenicol doesn't work." They'd also said, "we won't be making DPT vaccines or vaccines for any part of DPT for several years." So much for that, which took up the first two pages. The boiled-down message was that they didn't have anything to help a field medic who was faced with a diphtheria outbreak right now.

The rest of the pamphlet was full of information, mostly from the retired docs, old Sims and McDonnell, on stuff that might help during diphtheria outbreaks if only they had the tools to make tools. Lots of woodcuts and illustrations of syringes and hypodermic needles. Diagrams of just what the problems were. Irrelevant. Whoever might have the tools to make tools, it wasn't him and it wouldn't happen in Bamberg. The plague doctors handled other epidemics, too. Maybe they'd be interested. He could always get another copy if he needed one. He tossed it into the pile for Matt.

Kronach, Franconia

July-August 1634

Matt stopped just outside the door. It was one thing to have heard "sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind" as a proverb. Grandma Geraldine used to say it all the time before she died last winter.

It was another thing to watch it in action. The segregation of entire families, the healthy members with the infected. The closing of markets and trade, with the unemployment that came from that. Not that Kronach had been trading anyhow, since it was under siege. Burning the furnishings and goods when an infected house was finally opened up again. Dealing with the kind of people for whom reopening plague-infected houses and burning the contents was an economic and social step up in the world. Maintaining enough oversight to keep that kind of people from stealing the infected stuff and selling it on the black market, where it would start the cycle again.

The Pesthaus, the quarantine hospital for the sick, was obviously a good idea, if not exactly a new one. Pious Catholics didn't always think that something like requisitioning monasteries to serve as plague hospitals was such a wonderful idea, but as Weinhart had pointed out, one could hardly use the municipal hospital for plague victims, since it was, as usual, full of orphaned children, crippled people, various elderly who had no family members to care for them, the epileptic, the languid, and the lunatic.

The "languid" had turned out to be those mentally ill who just sat there. Who'dathunkit?

Getting DDT into all of Kronach's houses, rich and poor alike, hadn't been too much of a challenge, once the authorities swung into action. With the doctors from Padua there to direct things, the council had set up a Magistracy of Public Health on the Venetian model. Which didn't exactly involve separation of powers. The Health Board could legislate action to be taken, it could order the action carried out, and it was the judicial authority that heard noncompliance cases. Given the level of down-time medical knowledge, it was no surprise that, according to Dr. Guarinoni, the motto of plague doctors was, "prevention is much more noble and more necessary than therapy."

It wasn't hard to get enough DDT. Matt had brought some with him when he came back from Grantville. They'd found an ample supplementary supply at the drop point within two weeks of asking for it.

Yeah. While they were stuck in Kronach, the three doctors had absorbed the up-time medical knowledge about transmission vectors, so they'd directed a lot of their efforts toward persuading de Melon and the city council that the rats had to be eradicated. It hadn't been all that hard for Matewski to persuade them that the transmission vector was little bugs in the blood rather than nasty, sticky, bad-smelling, poisonous, atoms that emanated from infected sources such as stinking garbage in alleys and stuck to inanimate objects, animals, and people when the air was corrupted, or miasmic, rather than salubrious.

After all, a person couldn't see either one. Matewski had promised them that after this was over, he'd somehow get hold of an up-time microscope from Grantville and let them take a look at plague bacilli. They were looking forward to this, particularly since he told them that up-time science had confirmed the existence of atoms, even if they were too small to see through a microscope.

The doctors were particularly happy to hear that plague bacilli were made up of atoms, ultimately. Probably nasty, poisonous, ones. So maybe that wasn't the way Nichols or Adams or Shipley would have explained it to them, but Matewski had never claimed to be a doctor.

They were also happy to hear that almost the first enterprise of every Italian health board when the plague struck-namely, cleaning up the smelly garbage-had been a good idea, even if the underlying theory was inaccurate. So was the custom of having the men from lay sodalities visit all the poor houses in the town, clean them thoroughly, and give them a fresh coat of whitewash, inside and out.

At any rate, if Grantville had any luck at all, it was luck that it had made an ally of Venice. And not enemies, really, of Florence and Genoa. Those cities had developed plague-fighting as far as it could go with the knowledge and techniques that the seventeenth century had available. They'd had the organization, already. What they knew about medicine hadn't matched up to it, but… In Kronach, now, they were combining what Grantville knew about medicine with what plenty of Italians already knew about handling the, uh, bureaucracy of the thing. If it worked here, the new USE would put it into force in all the towns and cities.

What the USE really needed was some sort of… pipeline… for hiring more Italians. It really did.

Yeah, they'd gotten exemplary military and civilian cooperation on the rat eradication project.

Even if that meant that the fleas went looking for other hosts-human hosts-faster than would ordinarily have been the case. At least they hadn't done the old-fashioned thing of killing off the dogs and cats. Dogs and cats not only caught rats, but gave the fleas a few more options. And Kronach wasn't starving. He'd seen to that himself. So the Kronacher weren't eating the cats and dogs. Much less plague-infected rats.

The city had food. He was making the council pay for it, but it came in regular deliveries. He also made sure that the city council let the people know that the food was arriving because of his benevolent magnanimity. Or Vince's. Or Steve Salatto's. Or Grantville's. Or by sufferance of Mike Stearns and Gustavus Adolphus.

Think nice thoughts about us, folks. After all, one of my jobs is to incorporate this town into a happy, democratic, tolerant, Franconia when the time comes. Sure. That's gonna work. Kronach and Coburg. The ranchers and the farmers should be friends. Yippee.

He looked down at himself. In a world without latex, you did what you could, even if that meant that you swathed and robed yourself in waxed linen, with a breath mask over your face. The down-time theory was that it was harder for the nasty atoms to stick to waxed cloth. According to Gatterer, a slippery silk ought to work, too, but it cost too much. Guarinoni had admitted that he had never previously had much faith in the usefulness of the waxed linen robes, thinking that they were a Frenchified affectation and that all they really did was keep most of the fleas that tended to infest pest houses off the physicians. Then he'd thought again about transmission vectors and added, "Well… Maybe there is some point to them, after all."

They waxed the fabric on the stretchers that the attendants used to carry patients to the Pesthaus, too.

That brought his mind back to the current state of the Pesthaus. Bursting at the seams. Grandma Geraldine had another saying. "The hotter the battle, the shorter the war." She'd gotten that from her own mother. With the help of a set of twins, Great-Grandma Anna had managed to have seven children in eight years before she stopped cold at age thirty.

He hoped his great-grandmother was right.

So he opened the door and went in. It always took him a pause and some thought before he managed to walk up and open that door.

De Melon had become accustomed to the smoke. Something was always burning. When the Health Board had sent members of the council and the lay sodalities out to make a survey of the city, they had found many uninfected families sleeping on straw pallets that were filthy and fetid. That was scarcely surprising. That the poor had pallets at all was a sign of the comparative prosperity of the Germanies as compared to Spain.

The Health Board had ordered them all confiscated and burned. Ordinarily, that would have left the poor sleeping on the ground. Not that this was a terrible hardship in the summer. De Melon had slept on the ground more than once.

The order for a couple thousand clean, uninfected replacement pallets to be delivered to the drop-off point had put a big dent in his budget. Luckily, he hadn't had to pay cash. He had used bank drafts, duly countersigned by two members of the Magistracy for Health and payable in Wurzburg. If fortune smiled, he would be reimbursed. By someone. Given the events of the summer, it no longer seemed probable that Duke Maximilian of Bavaria would reimburse him. He was far from sure that the duke was still his employer.

Maybe the bishop of Bamberg? Then, again, probably not, with Dornheim dead in Carinthia and the cathedral chapter not yet having elected a successor. It would be Hatzfeld, probably, but no telling how long it would take the pope to confirm him. It wasn't likely that a suffragan would be willing to authorize large, unexpected, expenditures.

The Health Board had given the fresh pallets to households that had already been cleaned and whitewashed, in return for a promise by the housewife that she would continue to use DDT.

It cost a lot. Probably less than burning corpses, though. Because of the siege, it was not feasible to establish a plague cemetery without continuing to reinfect the city. No way to make burials outside the walls. The church frowned on cremation except in the direst emergency. However… Surely the up-time understanding of atoms would lead to a change in policy. Logically, it should not be any more difficult for God to reassemble atoms dispersed in the air than those dispersed in the earth. So… Corpses were remarkably hard to burn, even if one saved on fuel by using old pallets and the rags and furnishings taken from infected houses as much as possible. One could regard the new pallets as a good use of limited funds. One would certainly interpret the new pallets as such a good use when reporting the condition of one's budget to one's employer.

There were other savings to be attributed to the siege, also. He did not have to deal with preventive quarantine of possibly infected individuals coming into the town from elsewhere. That tended to be expensive because of the need for posting guards outside the quarantine barracks. Merchants and other travelers often resented having their journeys interrupted, not to mention taking exception to being charged a reasonable amount for board and room during their period of isolation.

Of course, the siege also meant that the Health Board had not been able, thus far, to expel all transients, vagrants, mountebanks, and other undesirable elements who had been in the city when the plague broke out. So the authorities were having to feed them.

He would have to talk to Herr Trelli about that. Expulsion was pretty standard procedure. It was Herr Trelli who had forbidden the council to follow that procedure, on the grounds that they would starve to death between the city walls and the siege lines, or attempt to escape through the siege lines and possibly spread the plague into the countryside.

If Kronach offered to surrender in return for the SoTF's absorbing all the costs of coping with the plague as a starting point for negotiations… At the very least, by the time the negotiations ended, Herr Marcantonio in Bamberg should certainly reimburse de Melon for feeding those noncitizens all summer. That was only reasonable. This epidemic was eating up about forty percent of his budget and he wasn't really in the best position to float loans at the moment. No banker worth his salt was going to finance a military entrepreneur who was probably unemployed. Or if employed, employed by the wrong side.

He wonder how much ransom the USE would ask for him if he surrendered.

He was pretty sure that Duke Maximilian would not be in a mood to pay it.

Matt wasn't sure just how much he was in a position to promise, but de Melon was in a mood to dicker.

"Let me draw up a proposal. Everything we've talked about. I think that this is even way beyond Steve Salatto's pay grade, though."

They paused for an explanation of pay grades.

"Vince can radio it to him. He can radio it to the prime minister and emperor."

De Melon nodded agreement.

***

Matt spent the whole evening writing. He figured that he had an ace up his sleeve. Now he needed to finish up what he'd leave for Bachhausen at the drop-off point tomorrow morning-well, later this morning, given the time-in a thoroughly sealed envelope.

"So de Melon is worried about Duke Maximilian and pretty sure the Bavarians won't ransom him if he surrenders the city. We can open the gates. The plague has tapered off and the doctors from Padua did pretty good. They're congratulating themselves pretty hard that only a fifth of the people died instead of two thirds."

Which really was something for them to be proud of, all things considered. But anyway…

"Now what we know, and what de Melon doesn't, is this stuff about Don Fernando and what de Melon did later in the Netherlands."

He started a new page. "So I was sort of thinking, and I know it's no business of mine to be suggesting foreign policy, but still, I've been stuck here at Kronach a long time and I'd really like to see the end of the siege."

He crossed that out. Nobody up at the level of Stearns was going to care that one up-time lieutenant was to the point that he'd be happy to cast himself down on a sword if that would just finish up the siege of Kronach.

"My recommendation, based on the current local situation, is that the State Department ought to make a copy of what the Research Center found out about de Melon and send it to Don Fernando. It makes de Melon look like a good enough catch that maybe he'll reimburse him for his expenses here. I don't know whether the USE is doing ransoms or not. If it is, Don Fernando might even ransom him and ask to have him come to Belgium."

Matt crossed that out. Damn. I know it isn't Belgium down-time. I'm up way too late.

"… to the Spanish Netherlands, which would get him out of Franconia."

Matt crossed that out, too.

"… which would…" Well, what would it?

"… to the Spanish Netherlands, where he might find a useful and constructive outlet for his undeniable talents."

Bingo! Mr. Piazza and Ms. Mailey would be proud of him. Mr. Piazza and Ms. Mailey had spent a lot of time talking to him about useful and constructive outlets back in his high school days.

He pulled out another sheet of paper and started on the clean copy.

Kronach, Franconia

September 1634

"There's not going to be any real fall-out from the Ram Rebellion for Kronach, one way or the other, directly," Matt pointed out to Cliff Priest. "Since the whole city was closed up by the quarantine for the crucial months, they weren't really involved on either side. Except…".

"Except?" Scott Blackwell raised his eyebrows. His expression said that the worst was yet to come. Just because it always was.

"They've come out to find out that their peasant 'subjects' in the hinterland have taken severe exception to being 'subjects' and have acted upon their convictions. Never mind. They'll just have to learn to live with it. I've told Bachhausen that if they try to use their militia to restore the old order, it's his job to stand up for the citizens of the State of Thuringia-Franconia."

"One could say that the Kronacher are SoTF citizens, too."

Matt grinned. "Not till they take the oath of allegiance, they aren't. Which they missed last winter because of the siege and this summer because of the quarantine. Which I somehow just haven't gotten around to administering yet. The farmers, on the other hand…"

"You didn't used to be like this," Stew Hawker said.

The grin turned a little bleak. "Let's just say that Kronach's been an educational experience and leave it at that. Okay?"

Cliff looked at his former high school student and said, "Okay."

Bamberg, Franconia

September 1634

Matt was sitting on the floor of the Real Estate Titles office. "So that's the plan. I'm going to Padua as soon as I finish up here in Franconia. Marcie and me…"

Janie winced.

"-okay, Marcie and I-are getting married in December. She's coming down to Wurzburg and we'll leave from there."

"Padua? Why on earth?"

"First of all, Stoner's there. Stoner's what I'm looking for. I've got to learn everything the man knows. If Kronach taught me anything, it taught me that. I'm no boy genius or anything, but I did have basic chemistry and stuff at Fairmont State before I had to quit to save up some more money. I'd have gone back and finished up-time, so why not here?"

"There's always Jena. And the new med school. It's a lot closer to home."

"Well, yeah." Matt looked a little uncomfortable. "But it's still just a start-up, really. As the doctors put it to me, the only reason that Beulah MacDonald and her people have had any success at all getting their ideas across in Jena is that the med school dean, Rolfinck his name is, is a Padua man himself. Guarinoni said that if the dean there had been the product of a university like Wittenberg or Paris, the folks from Leahy would have been dead in the water. And Gatterer asked why should I get Padua second-hand when I can have the real thing. In a lot more words, but that's what it boiled down to."

Janie looked at him. She'd heard all about Steve Salatto's explosion at Johnnie F. Haun-that the point of Hearts and Minds was for Us to convert Them rather than vice versa. "It sounds sort of like you've swallowed their viewpoint."

Matt wriggled. "Well, I figure things this way. They have a lot more experience living in the seventeenth century than we do. It seems a little silly not to take advantage of it."

"I hate to be crass, but how are you planning to pay for it? Living in Padua and sitting at the foot of the master and all that?" Janie waved her hand vaguely. "That could be years. Do they take transfer credits? Universities in this day and age, I mean?"

"Our three doctors will write recommendations, since they're all alumni. And, yeah, they do accept transfer credits in a way. You can take your exams as soon as you're up to them. Nobody really cares where you took the courses as long as you can pass the exams. The Latin will be the big thing, but Weinhart has been tutoring me while we were in Kronach."

"Well, you show up at our place in the evenings and I'll keep on tutoring you here. Nothing like a head start, especially when it comes for free."

"We talked about it, Marcie and me. Well, we wrote letters about it. We haven't really talked much for two years. I've only gotten up to Grantville that one time since we came down here after the Gustavus/Stearns detente in '32. Her folks were so sure that talking wasn't what we had on our minds that we scarcely got to see each other at all. If you've ever got a job here that requires privacy minimization, consider hiring Rosemary."

"People have been reacting to the Ring of Fire in all sorts of ways. We have Father Mazzare-Cardinal Mazzare, now-pulling and tugging to bring the Church into a post-Vatican II frame of mind, and Catholics in Grantville like Rosemary who would just as soon sink back into a comfortable pre-Vatican II world." She tapped her toe on the footstool that she used to boost herself up to the pedestal desk. "Rosemary's close to five years older than I am. She probably was confirmed before Vatican II had any effect on the catechism or anything."

Matt leaned forward, his hand on his chin. "What the hell does Rosemary think we did back when we were dating in college? Or after we got engaged, before I got sent down to Franconia? Not that Marcie was in a mood to push it. We were almost like strangers again. We thought about putting off getting married indefinitely. Partly because of the money thing, but that's not most of it. We think we can make it, that way. She's a fully qualified engineer, now. She had three years of college before the Ring of Fire-one more than me because she didn't have to work so many hours-and she's trained at USE Steel ever since it started up. Stoner has the clout to get her a good job, even in the Most Serene Republic of Venice, where female engineers aren't exactly a dime a dozen. So she can support me. As long as she doesn't get pregnant. Which, as far as we're concerned, she won't."

"She's going to Padua with you?"

"Not much point in getting married and then having me in Padua and her in Grantville. That wouldn't be any different from the last couple of years. Why bother to get married at all, if we did it that way? Joe and Rosemary are having kittens, of course. She's their baby girl. Leaving home for foreign parts. Rosemary's being a drama queen."

Janie winced. "Your folks?"

"Well, Mom would just like me to come home, of course. Even after so many changes, she's not that crazy about the idea of my hanging around Stoner. She hoped that we'd settle down right in Grantville after I got out of the army. That Marcie would come be an engineer in town and I'd find a job of some kind and we'd provide grandchildren. It's hard for her, especially. Dad just ignored the church and got married again even before the Ring of Fire, so he has Abby and the little kids. But Mom's stuck in limbo, there at the Curl and Tan. She's sort of given up. First she was sure I'd get killed on this posting to Bamberg and now she's sure that I'll die of some awful disease in Italy."

Janie snorted. "If Rosemary's five years older than I am, then Amy's ten years younger. She doesn't have any excuse. It's a gumption issue with her, if you ask me. Pardon my French, since she's your mother and all."

"Herr Matewski, you do have it all?"

Joe Matewski looked up. "Yes, I have it all."

"The addresses of the professors in Padua, and the others who have been hearing the lectures of Professor Stone?"

"Yeah."

"The glassblowers whom we are recommending?"

"Yeah?"

"Our new addresses?"

"Yeah."

"Our letters to Dr. Sims and Dr. McDonnell."

"Yeah."

"I am most anxious to enter into correspondence with both of them."

"I'm sure."

"It is the gold that is important. Remember that. It is the gold. If indeed they can draw brass fine enough to make these hypodermic needles for drawing blood to make this 'serum-based antitoxin' and one of the main problems is that blood corrodes the needles so quickly, it is the gold that is important. They must coat these brass needles with gold."

"Yeah," Joe Matewski said. "I've got it. Really I do. I figure that this is really important to you. The medical types in Grantville and Jena will get the short version over the radio tonight and this"-he held up several hundred pages of closely written paper-"just as soon as I can get it there. A couple of weeks, at most."

Gatterer expressed profuse gratitude.

"I'll radio the short version to Venice for Stoner, too. Express-courier the second copy to him."

Gatterer grasped his head and kissed him on both cheeks.

Matewski thought that a friendly handshake would have been just plenty, but he managed to keep from backing off.

He didn't enjoy going to those Hearts and Minds lectures, but maybe they did some good, after all.

Bamberg, Franconia

October 1634

"What do you think, Vince?" Janie Kacere turned a couple of pieces of paper over and then turned them back again. "Were they a Trojan horse that we sent into Kronach? Successfully, I have to admit, the way Matt"-she waved toward him down at the end of the table-"pulled things off. Or…"

"… were they a Trojan horse that the Duchess Claudia de Medici planted on us?" Cliff Priest finished her sentence. "And if she did, why?"

Vince Marcantonio shook his head. "I don't know which one. Not yet. Maybe we won't know for years." He grinned suddenly. "But she's damned determined that they're going to see Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar next, whether they want to or not, so I've gotten the better of Guarinoni's complaints that their 'old bones' wouldn't stand a trip over to Swabia at his age."

"Vince." Stewart Hawker looked apprehensive. "What have you done? They are over sixty, after all. Guarinoni and Weinhart both. And Gatterer's no spring chicken, either. He got his M.D. more than thirty years ago. They were pretty wiped out when they came in from Innsbruck last March, even though the duchess paid for a carriage so they didn't have to ride out in the weather. The trip from here up to Kronach wasn't easy for them, either. And the summer didn't exactly count as a vacation, either."

"I asked him if he was open to new experiences. Of course he's so full of himself that he had to say 'yes.' And what with the fact that there's a landing field at Rheinfelden now…"

"You got hold of a plane?" Stew spilled his coffee on the flagstone floor.

"Yep. A Gustav is coming to drop a couple of high-ranking diplomats off in Bayreuth. The pilot will transport the good doctors and deposit them right on Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar's doorstep. Bernhard isn't going to let our medical people from Fulda into his territory, I don't think. We have to live with that. But he seems to be willing to take these men from the Duchess Claudia. Don't know why. Maybe parts of the Catholic and Austrian territories that he's scooped up aren't as docile as he had hoped."

"Nobody's ever as docile as a person hopes." Bennett Norris spoke in the world-weary voice of anyone who has ever parented a teenager. Vince ignored him. Bennett was starting to succumb to short-timer-itis. As soon as the national election was over and done with, in February, Ed Piazza was transferring him and Marian to Mainz.

"They're the best that this time and place has to offer, and they can take some of our tricks with them. Maybe they can contain the plague that's scheduled to sweep up through Swabia and Wuerttemberg into the USE in the next couple of years. Maybe Bernhard's just self-interested enough not to want half the population of his new sandbox dead. God, I hope so. And even if they can't pull it off…"

It didn't look like Vince was going to finish the sentence.

Janie looked up at the cherubs on the ceiling. "… there's always the possibility that we've sent a secret weapon."

"What?"

"Guarinoni may bore Duke Bernhard to death with extended lectures on a healthful lifestyle. Replete with mnemonic tricks and pompous admonitions."

Together, most of the SoTF administrative staff in Bamberg chanted, "Let's all be gesondt."

Bozen, Tirol

October 1634

"God rest his soul," Duchess Claudia said. She was referring to her late brother-in-law Ferdinand, the Holy Roman Emperor.

Dr. Bienner crossed himself.

"Ferdinand was never seriously interested in the Austrian holdings in Swabia."

Bienner nodded cautiously.

"Our nephew Ferdinand is not likely to make them his primary concern, either. He worries about Hungary. And the Turks."

"As well he should."

"The Austro-Hungarian Empire?"

"Premature, perhaps. But not unreasonable, given the situation in the Germanies."

"Which leaves Tyrol to worry about Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. If, of course, the Swede does not manage to smash him." The duchess-regent smashed her hand down on the table. "I like that English word. It has such a satisfying sound."

"General Horn is not given to smashing."

"So I have heard. Duke Bernhard accepted Our physicians?"

"And, apparently, their advice. There is the whole winter to prepare for what we may, according to the up-timers' encyclopedias, expect next spring. They will work with the up-time 'nurse.' "

"Perhaps our agents in the Vorarlberg should initiate diplomatic relations with him?"

Dr. Bienner stroked his beard without replying.

Duchess Claudia walked to the window. "We are well matched in age. I am only thirty and proven fertile."

Dr. Bienner nodded. Her first marriage, little over a year in duration, had produced a child who still lived. Female, unfortunately. The second, five children in eight years, four of them still alive and healthy and two of them boys. Claudia de Medici was a woman to gladden any ambitious dynast's heart.

While his mind wandered, she had continued talking. "Perhaps it was prescient that Leopold and I chose to name our first daughter Isabella Clara. Two years before this 'Ring of Fire.' If the king in the Low Countries and Maria Anna have a son right away, the age gap will not be too great. A boy is old enough to beget years before a woman has matured enough to give birth with maximum safety. And the symbolism should appeal to them."

Dr. Bienner nodded silently.

"Duke Bernhard is a heretic, but that is no insuperable obstacle. After all, the pope granted a dispensation for the French king's sister to marry that stupid Englishman. Lutherans are no more heretical than Anglicans."

She tapped her fingernails, one by one, on the window pane. "I am scarcely in Vienna's confidence, of course. But if it should happen that Our cousins are too preoccupied to think seriously about the, um, 'challenges and opportunities' presented by the situation in Vorderoesterreich and the Breisgau… ah, not to mention Alsace and the Franche Comte…"

She turned around from the window, leaning forward.

"Tyrol is not."

Dr. Bienner nodded again. "May your generosity be rewarded, Your Grace."

Lucky at Cards

Andrew Dennis

"So, how do we play this game?" Richelieu's manner was open, inquiring, almost naive.

Smirks passed around the table. The business of state had finished hours ago and the guests who had remained in the Louvre to drink and gamble the night away were somewhat relaxed from the formality of occasions of state.

"Armand, you are impossible." Abel Servien, marquis de Sable, was a little more relaxed than most, laughing out loud as he spoke. Louder than most, too. It was all Mazarin could do not to wince at the way the man boomed. He actually liked the fellow, but it was a lot easier to picture him riding to hounds or spearing a boar than haggling the fine provisions of a treaty or partaking of a detailed academic correspondence. He did both of the latter, to the mild puzzlement of many, who looked at the big, hearty, beefy fellow with the loud voice and the bombastic manner and assumed he was, at best, an uncomplicated soul. The missing eye, lost in a hunting accident in his youth, did nothing to detract from the image of a simple brawler from the rural nobility.

Which he was. Simply a highly intelligent, supremely educated one whose achievements off the hunting field had just won him election to the newly-formed Academie Francaise, an accolade that paled somewhat beside being regarded by Richelieu as a smart man. Mazarin also had a high opinion of his talents: he had thrashed out the Peace of Cherasco with Servien, what seemed now like a lifetime ago, and both of them had done well as a result. Mazarin had made a name that now saw him in good odor in Paris and Rome both, and Servien had ended up minister of war and able to place any number of his relatives in the cardinal's service. His fourth cousin, Etienne, was one of the more notorious of the special intendants who did the cardinal's more surreptitious work.

"Impossible, Abel?" Richelieu smiled back.

"Impossible." Servien gestured for the cardinal to be included in the deal. "If Etienne hasn't already furnished you with a complete set of rules, some other of your army of sneaks has done so, and I can't imagine it took you more than, oh, an hour or so to learn them fully and devise seventeen winning stratagems."

Richelieu quirked an eyebrow. "Why would you think I might do such a thing? A churchman, studying so disreputable an activity as cards?"

"Hah!" Servien barked. "It would be an improvement from all those grubby actors and playwrights you throw money at. And it's not as if we don't already have a cardinal taking us for every ecu in our pockets. Clearly it is an entirely reputable activity if we now have two princes of the church at table, although it will not be long before we have a beggar in my chair."

"Come, Abel," Mazarin said, "you can afford it. Can I help it if you're not as good at cards as you are at diplomacy?"

"I remain to be convinced that this 'Texas hold 'em' is quite the game of skill you claim it is." Servien grumped. "I have been dealt nothing but excrement since the evening began, and nothing seems to answer for making good the execrable luck I'm having."

At that he was doing better than Leon Bouthillier, who was to Mazarin's left; the fortunes of the comte de Chavigny were being heavily depleted and much of it had ended up in Mazarin's gratifyingly large stack of ecus. Alas, the poor fellow had learned to play poker from Harry Lefferts, and both men did not have a tell so much as consist entirely of one; one simply had to judge how excited the fellow was. Neither was much concerned to consider the odds, and had a basic instinct for unrestrained aggression. Harry did it a good deal better than Leon, but the principle was the same in either case-audacity, audacity and more audacity. Unfortunately, Bouthillier couldn't quite manage the same level of sheer single-minded sanguinity and would occasionally back down from a truly insane bluff; against Harry one played the probabilities and over time, wore him down. Against Leon, a show of force on a moderately strong hand would occasionally see him off.

The cards were going around again and this time Richelieu was being dealt in. "Could we have the door closed for some few moments?" he asked as he briefly examined his hole cards and arranged them neatly before him.

"Certainly," de Sable said, and waved at a servant to attend to the matter.

"And a moment of privacy?" Richelieu asked, prompting another wave for the assorted servants-including the fellow who was serving up the cards, at another nod and quirk of the eyebrow from the cardinal-to withdraw for the moment.

Mazarin noted the company. Himself, de Sable, Bouthillier, and Richelieu. And, now that the last of the servants had left, Etienne Servien pulling the door closed and standing by it to ensure their privacy, he raised an eyebrow.

"Yes, Your Eminence," Richelieu said, noting the gesture, "I am afraid I must interrupt you at cards with business. Tiresome, but necessary, and I do apologize."

"There is no need for Your Eminence to apologize," Mazarin said, "Since I am now fully employed here, my time is Your Eminence's."

"Can we drop the formality, please?" de Sable said. "Things were pleasantly relaxed, Jules, before you started Eminencing all over the place."

"Please excuse me, Abel," Mazarin said, realizing that he was actually at fault and grateful to the irascible war minister for the correction, "I still have a little trouble thinking of myself as a cardinal. A habit I am working on, I assure you."

"Work swiftly, if you would," Bouthillier said, speaking for the first time since Richelieu had entered. "The sense I have among Gaston's circle is that they would as soon not give you any time at all for that."

"Really?" It was Richelieu's turn to raise an eyebrow. "And how do they propose to arrange the dismissal of a cardinal who has His Holiness' favor so firmly in hand?"

Mazarin wondered too. He had successfully smoothed over the ripples that the Galileo Affair had caused, tidied up the loose ends from what had been, potentially, one of the most major upsets arising from the Ring of Fire. It hadn't been easy-the Venetian Committee of Correspondence had managed to set a record for bad luck and bad management that looked unlikely to be beaten-but it had just about been possible to maneuver the thing so that everyone got something and no one was left empty-handed. Spain was unhappy about it, but they were perennially unhappy about everything, so that wasn't much of a loss. It had taken all of Mazarin's skill as a lawyer and diplomat and, there at the end when he had to sell the thing to a sceptical curia, outright bare-faced cheek. What Harry Lefferts would call 'bafflin' 'em with bullshit.' The bluff had carried the day, and with Rome's political factions baffled into immobility and the damage to France-D'Avaux, the French ambassador to Venice, had managed to outdo himself for sheer fatheaded incompetence-was neatly contained.

Leon shrugged. "I don't think anyone has got quite so far as actual planning, although perhaps Giulio, or Jules rather-" he turned to Mazarin "-I do apologize, I've known you as Giulio for so long I keep forgetting-"

Mazarin waved it aside. If truth be told, he'd only had the new name for a couple of months and wasn't quite used to his new signature himself. Still, it did not do to take one's naturalization by half-measures.

"As I was saying before I put my foot so firmly in my mouth," Leon continued, "Jules will likely be seeing himself slandered in pamphlets before long."

Richelieu's grin was disarming. "The mazarinades are starting early, then," he said.

Mazarin couldn't help but be sarcastic. "I had so been looking forward to that," he said, "perhaps I should write a few memoirs of my time as a student in Madrid, so they can have some of the more noteworthy items to print."

"Really?" Abel asked, grinning broadly, "not quite the serious fellow I thought, are you?"

"Of course he is," Richelieu said, deadpan. "Would a prince of the church have spent his student years raising absolute hell in Madrid?"

"I didn't know I was entering the church then," Mazarin said, blushing slightly. He had, in fact, taken full advantage of his time as an undergraduate to make a perfect beast of himself and honed the skills of fast talking and persuasion he had later parlayed into a career in diplomacy. Watching Harry Lefferts in action in Rome had brought back some very pleasant memories indeed. And, although wild horses would not drag the admission out of him in this company, made him wish rubber had been invented back then. Those things were a marvellous invention.

"Be that as it may," Richelieu said, before Mazarin could wander off into pleasant remembrances, "if Gaston is minded to make trouble I think we should take him seriously. We have nothing specific as yet, but there is suggestion that he has been meeting with more Spaniards lately."

"And His Majesty still won't have his brother executed?" Abel Servien's tone was arch and sneering in a way that would have surprised anyone who didn't know him well.

"Please, Abel," Richelieu said, "until His Majesty is blessed with an heir, Monsieur Gaston has to remain alive."

"I am very carefully not commenting on His Majesty's practice in that regard," Servien said, suddenly absolutely without tone or affect in his voice.

"Her Majesty has been pregnant several times, as you know, Abel," Richelieu said, his tone chiding.

Servien simply harrumphed.

Richelieu waved the issue of royal issue aside. "Perhaps something might be done to warn off Monsieur Gaston?" He opened the question to general debate with his tone and a glance around the table. "While we consider it, may I ask to whom falls the honor of opening the betting?"

The business of betting occupied everyone for a few moments; by ironclad convention there was no gossip while a hand was in play, a rule that held as well for primero and baccarat as it did for Texas hold 'em. Unfortunately, Mazarin was holding a rather nice pair of fours that turned in to three of a kind on the flop, so the preoccupation of the other three men at the table made for disappointing betting. The river gave him a full house, nines over fours, but Leon had had the other two nines, so perhaps the rather light betting had been a mercy. He would cheerfully have called Leon's bluff all the way to the hilt, and probably reversed their relative positions. As it was, Leon made a dent in the stack of ecus he'd lost to Mazarin.

"Keep playing like that, Jules," he said, "and the dark rumors Gaston's crowd want to spread about your gaming debts will come true."

"Rumors?" Mazarin felt the beginnings of a chill at that. If it got about that he wasn't good for his notes of hand, the sudden loss of welcome at Paris's gaming tables would only be the start of his troubles. A man who couldn't pay his card debts wasn't a gentleman, and therefore unfit to take his place in polite society. As such, he would be politically useless, practically and as a matter of correct protocol both.

"That you've gambled away every benefice you've had, and our patron here has hold of your 'leash' because he's settling your debts for you, or so they say. And His Eminence knows he will have you under control forever because you keep getting in trouble no matter how many times you are dragged out of the hole. I wish you'd stop it, Jules," Leon said, grinning broadly, "as the constant calls of debt-collectors grow most tiresome."

Mazarin grinned back. "What can I do? I keep losing so badly, but one day my luck will change, I am sure of it. I have a foolproof system." In fact, the only callers on Mazarin's lodgings at the Maison Chavigny were those delivering his winnings, usually with rueful notes from the assorted notables who hadn't had the sense to stop playing against him when they exhausted what they had at table and had to resort to notes of hand. He'd lost more than he sat down with exactly once in the last two months, when he'd written a note to cover the last call of the night, for the princely sum of five hundred ecus-slightly less than a week's income from the larger of his two benefices. The only delay in redeeming his note had been because he'd slept in the next day. His foolproof system was simply that he was very, very good at any game that depended on bluff; primero and, lately, poker. He would play basset, faro and baccarat to be sociable, but he had grown out of pure gambling long ago.

Everyone around the table knew it, and his remark raised a round of chuckles. "I could take it very amiss, you know, that Monsieur Gaston thinks me stupid enough to keep playing when I'm losing."

"Now, now, Jules," Richelieu said, wagging a finger, "Cardinals aren't allowed affairs of honor. And if you think you are embarrassed to learn that Gaston's crowd thinks little of you, imagine how embarrassed I should be to have you imprisoned for duelling and for killing the king's brother."

"Shame," Abel said, into the thoughtful silence that followed that. "He's given me cause a couple of times."

"Perhaps some other kind of contest," Leon added, suddenly with a 'butter wouldn't melt' expression on his face.

Servien erupted. "Arm-wrestling!" he choked out between guffaws, "Bowling! Duels will be transformed! A new fashion!"

Leon grinned. "I was thinking of, perhaps, something a little more in keeping with the spirit of the slander. Jules, Gaston has taken to playing primero rather a lot."

"Really? I had thought him a basset man, and baccarat when he feels like an intellectual challenge." Mazarin had been at Monsieur Gaston's table a couple of times, but had never found the company truly congenial. The man was perennially unhappy at not being his elder brother, and tended to attract the like-minded to his circle. They were not marked so much by a lack of talent as an inability to use it because they flatly refused to believe the world was as it was, insisting that it was as they would like it to be.

"Until recently, yes," Leon said, "but the new fashion for poker affronts him, and thus his entire circle. Apparently it is a foreign game that no true Frenchman would be seen playing."

"What patriotism." Richelieu's drawl was dry and deadpan. The regularity with which Gaston took foreign support for his schemes was notorious. Had he not been the king's brother he would have gone to the headsman along with his conspirators. "Perhaps you can show him how a foreigner plays the game, Jules? If that is what Leon is driving at?"

"How could a naturalized Frenchman teach so senior a Frenchman as Monsieur Gaston how to play a game that was invented in Italy?" It was too good to resist, Mazarin thought. Gaston, a serial traitor who frequently colluded with foreign powers was flouting his Frenchness by playing an Italian game? If that was the defining standard, Jules could prove himself easily. He'd been beating his relatives at it when he was twelve.

"The idea has merit," Richelieu said. "He will think himself presented with an opportunity to ruin you financially-what little I know tells me that over time the player with deepest pockets can win. And-forgive me Jules, but it was necessary to know-I understand that you rarely lose over the long term. The worst that will happen is that you will rise from the table with some trifling loss, and we might well see Monsieur Gaston subsidizing your new estate."

"I cannot simply walk in to his circle," Mazarin observed, "unless you want the gesture to be theatrical in the extreme."

"No, no," Richelieu said, "an outright challenge would be counterproductive for the moment. If Leon would procure you an entree, you should work your way toward playing cards with the fellow for high stakes, somewhere very public. And then, Jules, forget the rules of protocol. You rank before him as a prince of the church. You are entirely permitted, encouraged even, to take him for everything you can."

The opportunity came shortly after Christmas, at the kind of levee that Mazarin had come to look forward to immensely. Her Majesty, whatever the king thought of her, was a thoroughly charming lady and one whose company he could not get enough of. She, too, liked him. He could see Richelieu's purpose in bringing them together as much as was possible-Anne of Austria, despite the name, was quite thoroughly Spanish, despite the best efforts of her court ladies. She also corresponded frequently with her brother, Philip of Spain, and while the correspondence could not be practically intercepted, Richelieu had deep suspicions that it went beyond simple matters of family gossip. Although, for the Habsburgs, politics, statecraft and warfare were simple matters of family gossip. And Philip of Spain, faced with separations between his own throne and those of Austria and the Netherlands-the United States of Europe had not just messed things up in the Germanies-would be scrabbling for any connection he could get his hands on. And it was only a matter of time before she got drawn into the machinations of another de Chalais-Richelieu had had that one executed but there seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of traitors.

So-as far as Mazarin could reconstruct Richelieu's thinking-best to get Anne firmly attached to someone in his own party to shield her from the troublemakers. Mazarin felt fairly sure that Richelieu wasn't so cold-blooded that he would even suggest, let alone order, something so outrageous as a seduction. Not that he would say no, it had to be said, but there were limits and a prince of the church conducting an affair with the queen of France was pretty certain to be beyond them. Probably. The domestic situation of His Most Christian Majesty, Louis of France, was odder even than most monarchs.

The Louvre was host to a levee for the Feast of the Epiphany. His Majesty was away at Saint-Maur, leaving most of the court luminaries to celebrate in his absence, with the queen as hostess for the evening. And Monsieur Gaston, Duc D'Orleans, comte de Blois and comte d'Anjou was there as well.

Mazarin had wandered along with Leon Bouthillier several times to levees and soirees that Gaston had thrown over the preceding few weeks. From time to time, he had even let the man inveigle him into a game of baccarat or basset, at which Mazarin had been careful to bet injudiciously and badly, losing a modest amount each time. That had grated, somewhat. The benefices Richelieu had settled on him were handsome, and entirely adequate for his modest living expenses and to get him a seat at Paris' better card tables. The rest-and after he brought home his winnings, it was a substantial rest-was going into procuring the nucleus of a fine, fine collection of books and art. He begrudged the money he had hurled at Gaston instead of at that.

Oh, he could understand the necessity. The man was important, virtually untouchable provided he had the sense to spend occasional periods out of the country, and, within his sphere, powerful. Cultivating him was necessary, and that was part of why Richelieu ensured he had the likes of Bouthillier to act as liaison, for all that the senior de Chavigny couldn't abide Gaston. But he had to be cultivated. Flattered even.

For now, though, there was a card game in the offing. Gaston had got back to his love of primero. "Is there room for another?" Mazarin asked as he walked into the room Gaston had selected.

"But of course," Gaston said, waving to a free spot. A spot where he would have to open the betting if Gaston kept the deal, a prerogative he could claim if he so chose. Leon Bouthillier was already in the game, and had a respectable stack of coin in front of him. Clearly this was company in which Leon could win. There were four others, none of whom Mazarin more than vaguely recognized.

A servant brought a chair and Mazarin sat down. "How is this game played, them?" he asked, provoking a round of cultured titters.

"If you sit down needing the rules explained, Your Eminence," Gaston drawled, "you deserve all you get."

Mazarin nodded to acknowledge the sally. If Gaston thought that that was cutting wit, he was welcome to it. "Do deal me in," he said, "and I shall answer for my own losses, such as they are." He grinned. This was a game he knew.

Gaston crooked an eyebrow and began. Mazarin's first two cards were perfectly ordinary, and yet a surprise. The Grantville patterns, similar to the Rouen cards, were becoming widespread. What was unusual was to see Gaston using them after his public prating about the whole business not being sufficiently French. The hand itself was a four and a five of hearts and clubs respectively, worth a low numero bid at best, and neatly removing temptation to start aggressively. "Numero thirty," he said, beginning with a half-dozen or so ecus simply to bait the field, and bidding a hand he could make with just two cards. Indeed, it would be hard to manage a hand that couldn't make that with a couple of draws. Playing like an old woman for the first couple of rounds was generally worthwhile, especially if there were pigeons at table. And, nobility being what they were-basset stakes were limited by law for anyone but the nobility for a reason-there was bound to be one or two. Being able to laugh off massive gaming losses was practically a badge of nobility.

Betting started out suitably extravagant following Mazarin's lead, none of the nobility wanting to look like they couldn't afford to plunge, and plunge hard. Mazarin felt a warm, warm glow somewhere begin somewhere in his belly. Now, if he could just persuade them to start trying to take him…

Gaston completed the deal once there were something like four hundred ecus on the table between six players, and already a supremo bid. Mazarin had seen the bets, joking that he was already in over his head despite the fact that he knew at least two of the men around the table had seen him play before. And, when the bids and the raises got hard, he let himself look a little worried and confined himself to seeing them. With his hand complete, Mazarin had his own bid in hand-a five and a six of hearts, but the bid was supremo. He folded without further ado.

"A little rich for your blood, Your Eminence?" Gaston asked, a minor barb whose sheer crudity meant that Mazarin could do little other than ignore it.

"A little, monsieur," Mazarin allowed, nodding his deference. His acting was not entirely thespian; conceding defeat in the first rounds made good tactical sense but he hated to do it. Letting his feelings show at this stage was sensible, if distasteful. "Perhaps I will be more fortunate in the next round?"

"Perhaps."

After that, Mazarin had to sit and be calm while the pot rose over two thousand ecus on one hand, which was frankly ludicrous. It was all he could do not to get up and demand to know what the hell these clowns thought they were playing at-most of the bids were flat-out impossible. And, sure enough, no one made his bid at the end of the game.

Time to conduct a little raid, he thought. If there were two thousand on the table, it was worth a little aggressive play. He got the six and seven of spades on the opening deal, and bid a supremo on the first round, running the bidding up handsomely, with fluxus bids that there was no chance of the table beating by the end of the first round, which he raised with a blithe smile. There was actually a slightly better chance of his making a fluxus than a supremo, assuming an honest deal.

He put up his best annoying smile when the deal was completed, and to his amusement he actually got the ace he needed for a supremo. From here on in it was a simple business of keeping the bets and draws going until he had that fourth spade without running the fluxus bids up so high-it was all of fifty right now-that he was faced with a lot of folding before he could make his hand. He grinned broadly. "Supremo," he said, tossing in the useless heart and setting down the three cards of his hand. He didn't even trouble to look at the card Gaston dealt him. The bidding suddenly became conservative.

So I am the kind of news that gets around, he thought. It was a gratifying consideration. A quick glance showed him that everyone was watching him carefully. Just because aristocracy likes to spend heavily, one should not assume they like to lose, and he was the best prospect for that just at the moment. The bids came back to him with a modest raise to match. He checked his draw card. Two of spades, giving him a fluxus and fifty-seven points on a supremo bid; he was bust. He considered, and rejected, the possibility of bidding the plain and naked truth. "I'll see that and vie for my supremo," he said, "all in." Not, strictly speaking, a good bid. Unless someone chose to raise him with a real fluxus.

Everyone folded. Even Gaston. "I should really have seen that hand," Gaston said as he shuffled and cut for the next hand. "I think we were bluffed."

"I had a fluxus and fifty-seven," Mazarin said, deadpan. "You were."

Gaston laughed. "You know, that was very convincing? You could as well have told everyone you had forty-two and no hand."

Mazarin kept his tone exactly the same. "I did."

That got a round of laughs. I have all of you now, he thought.

The next two hands passed off without incident, and the table talk was subdued. Mazarin made conservative bids and then folded when the deal was complete, risking only a little of the money he had taken with that early coup. That Gaston was not passing the deal around made things a little more difficult. Mazarin considered his cards. Two coats in clubs. A rather small numero right there, maybe a fluxus on the deal. He'd have to see if he could provoke a raise. "Numerus, forty," he said, tossing in a vie that was frankly far too large for the hand he was bidding.

The round of chuckles was what he had been hoping for. "Surely you may bluff better than that?" Gaston observed, "I had heard you had problems, Your Eminence, but I had ascribed them to ill-fortune."

"My fortunes are as God grants they should be, monsieur," Mazarin countered, "and the run of play is how I help myself. Let us see what problems arise in this hand."

Gaston nodded for the bidding to continue. The first four-the specimens of fungible nobility of the kind that clustered around whichever of Gaston or the king happened to be most readily available-all saw his bet, content to wait and see what the second round brought up. Leon Bouthillier considered for a moment. "I shall see that," he said, pushing forward his stake, "and re-vie another hundred ecus-numerus fifty-four."

Not a serious bid, Mazarin thought, one point short of supremo. It seemed young Leon had guessed what Mazarin was up to and was deliberately provoking the table. Which was helpful in its way, but-

"Supremo," Gaston said, matter-of-factly, seeing Leon's raise and adding a couple of hundred ecus of his own. "This game is starting to get interesting."

"Monsieur always did play for high stakes," Leon said, provoking a moment of silence around the table and a few worried frowns.

"Indeed," Gaston said, "all true Frenchmen should. Do you see?"

Mazarin loved moments such as these. The play at cards was thrill enough by itself-he had his play, to simply see the raises and watch whether the other players folded. A supremo bid was a tough one to make but easy enough to beat, especially if he managed to make his fluxus. The table talk, though, was growing delightfully heated. Leon-and Mazarin wished there was some way to warn him not to prejudice his valuable position in Gaston's circle-had made a sally at Gaston's unfortunate record in committing treason, and Gaston was, apparently, counting on Mazarin's clerical status and his own royal blood to avoid being called out to answer for his insult.

"I am told our newest cardinal has made a coup?" Everyone turned around to see who had spoken, and it was Her Majesty, Anne of Austria. The existing tension dissipated and a whole new kind arose. There was no love lost between her and her brother-in-law after he had entangled her in his last, disastrous, plot.

"I have had some small success, Your Majesty," Mazarin said, rising first to kiss her hand. "And I have some hope that Your Majesty's presence will bring me more luck."

"I shall remain and watch the play, then," she said. "Pray continue, my lords, Your Eminence." She took up a position behind Mazarin, her ladies attending in her wake like a small flotilla behind a graceful ship of the line.

"Your Majesty is most gracious," Gaston said, "and I recall the action is with His Eminence?"

"Indeed, monsieur," Mazarin agreed, "and I will see the three hundred that are bid and be content to await the completion of the deal."

The four nobles-Mazarin still couldn't recall any names-all saw the raise as well, taking six fresh cards between them. Floundering for a better hand, all of them, but unwilling to back down in a sensible manner now that Gaston had raised the moral temperature of the table.

Leon stayed in as well, smiling faintly and throwing off tells in all directions. Nothing useful, knowing Leon as well as he had come to. He was simply an excitable fellow.

Gaston completed the deal without comment. Mazarin checked his cards. Seven of clubs and the four of hearts. That was his original bid made; a pity the bid was supremo. And also a pity Gaston hadn't chosen to play the English version of primero-the pirates' version of the game where bidding was not troubled with and the strongest hand won. Much more like the American's poker and a far better game for bluffing since there was so much less information passing around the table. A fellow had to be able to truly read his table mates.

"The action is with you, again, Your Eminence," Gaston said.

"I shall pass for the moment and take another card," he said, flicking the four out of his hand with a negligent gesture.

"Not riding full tilt in to the action on this round, Your Eminence?" Gaston asked, an eyebrow raised as he dealt the card. "I seem to recall Your Eminence acquired some fame for that in your youth. In Italy."

"There is a right time and a wrong time to risk all, monsieur," Mazarin said, checking his card-Ace of Clubs, yes!-"as monsieur well knows."

Gaston's face went carefully blank. Mazarin had seen Leon's allusion to Gaston's habit of treason and raised with an allusion to Gaston's incompetence in his treason. The angrier Gaston got, the better, and Gaston was fighting with both hands behind his back in a needling contest. Gaston had a truly remarkable record of stupidity and vice to hint at, whereas Mazarin could sit and listen to allusions to his own personal history all day without being upset. So he was not a natural-born Frenchman? As well insult him over the size of his shoes. It was a fact about him, nothing more. Reminding Gaston he was a known traitor when Spain was massing its armies to the south, that would sting. Nor would anyone be much surprised if Gaston transpired to have some role to play in Spain's plans.

"Is it favorable?" Her Majesty asked.

"Very much so," Mazarin said, turning in his seat to address her, which was permissible now that she herself was seated. "The game is convivial and the company has become so."

The queen's dimples deepened as she suppressed a laugh. She had a wicked and impious sense of humor among her confidants, and jokes with a sting of sarcasm always pleased her. Clearly she could sit and listen to Gaston being the butt of humorous sallies all night long. "I hope the company brings you luck?" she said, and her expression added a new layer of meaning to the simple remark. "His Eminence Cardinal Richelieu suggested I come to the table in the hope of bringing you luck."

Mazarin frankly grinned. It was a terrible quirk of fate that had left this woman married to a man with King Louis'… proclivities. "I am sure Monsieur Gaston will not insult Your Majesty by trying to deal me another queen."

There was a slight intake of breath around the table at that. Never mind that he had given Gaston his back, however obliquely and however permissible it was when the queen was the object of his attentions, he had made sure his remark was loud enough that everyone heard him publicly suggest he was planning lese-majeste and cheating at cards. Mazarin excused himself from the queen and turned back to the table to see that Gaston's face was perfectly still, two of the disposable nobles were growing red-faced on his behalf while the other two were as closed-faced as their patron and Leon was visibly trying to control a smirk. "Where is the action?" he asked brightly, "Please excuse my inattention, but a royal lady comes before the ladies of the cards."

"Quite," Gaston said, "it is with my lord Bouthillier de Chavigny-"

"Your pardon, Monsieur," Leon said, "I will vie for supremo, four hundred ecus." Clearly the disposables had all passed. Leon took his compulsory draw, one card only, doing nothing to give the lie to his claim.

A bold bid, Mazarin thought, I wonder if he's really holding one. He'd never actually seen Leon play primero, only poker, and so had no idea if he was as bullish at the old game as he was at the new. There was one way to find out, and hopefully Leon was not going to be mulish about getting his stake back if he was good enough to run the betting up as high as he hoped it would get.

Gaston played right to form. "Supremo," he said, "I see your four hundred and re-vie one thousand." That provoked intakes of breath from those present.

Mazarin thought briefly about which of his tells to use, and settled on smiling faintly. "I shall see the fourteen hundred on the table and vie for fluxus, forty." He stared right into Gaston's eyes as he pushed a stack of ecus forward. Gaston stared right back.

"I do believe you are showing off for me, Your Eminence," the queen whispered, her lips thrillingly close to his ear.

He leaned back over his shoulder. "If a gentleman cannot show off in front of a queen, he cannot show off in front of any lady."

She sat back, and from the whispers and giggles it sounded as if the remark was being passed around the ladies.

The first three disposables folded, having passed already. Even half their stakes were a nice addition to the pot, though. The fourth exercised his privilege of passing once after the vie, and took another card. There was a possibility the fellow had a good hand building but he had none of the tells of a good hand or even a solid bluff.

Leon was grinning. Either he had a flux of his own-about one in four of the compulsory draws on a supremo bid would bust the hand with a fluxus-making Mazarin's bid a godsend, or he was simply enjoying the spectacle of Gaston's stony-faced anger. So-"I shall see that fluxus bid and re-vie for a fluxus of forty-five. A raise of a thousand ecu of my own." Leon was not far short of all-in with that. And, clearly, simply raising the temperature. If he was holding a busted supremo the least he would have would be a fluxus and sixty-five, and a genuine play to win would start just short of that. He was leaving the bid where he could be certain Mazarin could raise it to something he could make. Well done, Leon, Mazarin thought. Richelieu had selected a good man for the work he did.

Gaston was silent when the action passed to him. Silent for a long, long moment. He could assume that Mazarin and Bouthillier were bluffing, which was all well and good and he could simply stand with his supremo bid, or he could vie with another fluxus and see if he could call their bluff. He could raise a little and see if he could break their collective nerve, or he could raise a lot and simply dump the pot with a bid that no one could make, hoping to take it in the next hand. Or he could take the sensible move and see the bet, draw in the hope he could bust the supremo he was blatantly holding, and pray the one remaining interchangeable vicomte de wherever was sensible enough to make the right bid depending on what Mazarin did. "I shall see these bets, and draw one card," Gaston said, at length. In truth, it was all he could do. Anything else was either outright cowardice or likely to result in him losing.

Mazarin smiled serenely. "Fluxus, fifty, and a raise of another thousand." He stole a glance at Leon, who was grinning broadly. It would be interesting to see if Leon stayed in at this point.

The one disposable who had stayed in saw the bet, raised to fluxus fifty-one and another hundred ecus. He drew a card and was clearly trying to stay in long enough to build the hand; if he stayed in two rounds of betting the odds shifted in his favor. Mazarin wondered if the man felt foolish making raises of a hundred ecus in a game where at least two of the other players had three months' income staked on a single hand. Certainly his fellow hangers-on were giving him pitying looks, they having had the sense to get out of the way once it became obvious that this was a grudge match.

"I'll have fluxus, fifty-two," Leon said, covering the bet. "Will the table indulge me with a note of hand for the raise?" With the bet covered, he had only a few dozen ecu in front of him.

"I'll stand for it," came Abel Servien's booming voice.

Mazarin jumped slightly. Servien was a big man, a loud man, and ought not to be able to move that quietly, he reflected. Still, the man was a dedicated huntsman, or had been in his youth, and so ought to have some skill in the stalk. And if the whispering hangers-on around the room had done their job correctly he'd have heard there was a kill to be in at.

Servien's intervention left Gaston with no choice. He might legitimately express concern for the comte de Chavigny's finances if his son Leon was writing notes on his allowance, but he could not publicly insult the marquis de Sable who had plenty of hunting estates to back his note. "Certainly, if my lord the marquis is guarantor. How much was monsieur proposing to raise?"

"Five thousand," Leon said, grinning broadly as a footman set a small writing desk in front of him and he scratched a note for the sum.

The vicomte de whoever dropped his cards with an expression of disgust on his face. There was no way he could stay in and cover that long enough to make his flux, clearly, and was going to have to fold when the action came back to him.

Gaston's face was pale. A whispered exchange with a manservant brought him more money to the table, and he saw the bet without comment. Tellingly, he drew another card. Mazarin watched him intently. Was he relieved? Terrified? Even for such as Gaston, this was insane betting.

"I am afraid to say that the best I can do is go all-in," Mazarin said, beaming cheerfully back at Leon, as he pushed his ecus forward "unless the table will indulge me as it has M. Bouthillier?"

"Only fair," Servien barked, looking steadily at Gaston the while.

Gaston waved his assent, wordlessly. Fortunately, the footman had not gone far with the writing set.

Gaston looked pleadingly at the last of his cronies. If the fellow would stay in, there was a chance of keeping the play going long enough for him to build a flux while the two maniacs from Richelieu's party raised the stakes through the roof. Shaking his head regretfully, the fellow folded.

"Then," Leon said, relish in his voice, "it is time to see whether I or His Eminence has the better flux, not so? Or whether Monsieur Gaston is able to surprise us both?"

Mazarin smiled back. "Can you beat a fifty-seven with that flux that made you grin so widely?" he said, laying his cards down.

"Alas, no," Leon said, "I had fifty-six. The supremo bid was the bluff, and I did not make it."

Gaston tossed his supremo in with a noise of disgust. "I grow weary," he said, "and shall retire." Without saying more he gave everyone, including the queen, his back and left. His cronies followed him in short order.

With them out of the room, Servien leaned on the back of Leon's chair, his eyes screwed up and shaking in silent mirth.

Leon leaned over the table. "My note, Your Eminence," he said, proffering the thing while the footman raked Mazarin's winnings over to him. Leon was grinning awfully broadly for a man who was handing over that much money.

"Really, Leon, that isn't necessary," Mazarin protested. They had, between them, stung Gaston and his cronies for better than twenty thousand on one hand, "I was morally all-in on that last, and you have the second hand. Keep it as your share."

"A noble gesture," Servien said, aloud. "Keep it as a souvenir, young Leon."

"As the marquis says," Leon demurred, accepting the face-saving formula to avoid having to redeem his note in cash.

Mazarin turned to Her Majesty, who was smiling broadly, her eyes glinting. "Your Majesty brought me luck tonight," he said. "Allow me to share it with the royal lady who brought me the boon." He grabbed a double handful of coins, worth a couple of thousand at a guess since most of the coins were livres tournois, and offered them. He was flushed with the win, and it simply seemed-right.

"Handsomely done, Your Eminence," she said, "But your winning hand-I see a king and a knave. You did not play a queen?" Her smile turned impish.

"The night is yet young, Your Majesty."

A Trip to Amsterdam

Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett

When the news that Haarlem had fallen and Amsterdam would be under siege inside a week reached Henry Dreeson, the first thing he did was insist that the news not be leaked for as long as possible. The second thing he did was call in Horace Bolender of the Department of Economic Resources, Treasury Secretary Tony Adducci and Coleman Walker at the Fed to ask them what they thought the effect would be.

"The guilder will go through the floor," Tony answered. "The dollar will go through the roof. Remember the bubble in February? Well, this will be worse. We could hit a dollar per guilder. If that happens, we can just kiss the boom goodbye, because no one in Germany will have enough money to buy anything we sell."

"So we put more dollars out," Horace said. "Besides, the dollar rising isn't all bad. Imports would be a lot cheaper that way."

"Until something happens to threaten the faith the down-time Germans have in the miraculous American dollar," Coleman answered, coming to his feet. "Damn it, Horace, we have to have at least something approaching enough product to support the dollar or we're just another corrupt principality minting money to pay our debts. The Germans aren't dumb, for God's sake. They give us some trust because of the Ring of Fire, but that trust won't last through even slight inflation of the dollar. You can measure the amount of silver in a German coin, but you can't measure faith. It's either there or it ain't."

"All right, Coleman," Dreeson said, trying to calm everyone. "We'll get though this. What do we need to keep the worst from happening?"

"Someone is going to have to buy guilders, a whole lot of guilders. It will have to be enough guilders to keep the price up, and it can't be the bank that does it," Coleman answered, falling back into his chair. "Under these circumstances, if the bank started buying them, people would assume that we're trying to hold the price up and the selling frenzy would just increase. People would be afraid they would still have guilders when I put on the brakes and let the guilder fall. They'd be right, too. We can't buy all the guilders in Grantville and we certainly can't buy all the guilders in Germany. It has to be someone, preferably several people, we can trust. They have to have the money, and they need to be people known for doing well. Other people need to believe that they're buying guilders because they believe that the guilder will come back."

"Fine," Henry answered. "Who do you think it should be?"

"I can think of maybe fifty people that either have enough money or have control of enough money. Unfortunately, I don't trust most of them."

Horace snorted at that. It was a well known fact that Coleman Walker didn't trust anyone.

"Get David Bartley to do it," Tony suggested. "Sarah Wendell would work too, 'cept her dad works for us. The down-timers think the Sewing Circle have some sort of a magic touch."

"He won't do it," Coleman said. "The Bartley boy refused to use OPM funds to bail out his grandma and every one knows it. There is no way he would use OPM funds for this. It's too risky. I can't fault his fiduciary responsibility, but in this case it makes him useless."

"What about having him use our money?" Henry asked.

"Maybe, but if we do that, the Fed will probably take a loss this year," Coleman answered. "Can the government afford the loss of thirty million or more dollars? For this? Especially considering that it may not work."

Henry Dreeson was silent for almost a minute. Then he said, "I'll set it up. Expect a call this evening with the details."

The guilder was falling from the opening bell. That was expected but it was falling a bit faster than it should have. David wondered if the news had leaked to certain people ahead of time. He spent the morning watching the market, doing school assignments at a table near the trading floor, and quietly drinking cocoa. He hadn't developed a taste for coffee. When the guilder hit $45, he would start buying. He had to wait to make it look like he was buying guilders because he wanted them, not because he was trying to save them. He had to sell people on the idea that guilders were still worth something.

The news hit the floor around noon. Amsterdam was either under siege now, or would be within days. The evidence was fairly good that, at least for the present, Amsterdam was unlikely to be taken. On the other hand, who would have believed a month ago that the Dutch fleet would be routed and mostly destroyed? The money on deposit in the Wisselbank was safe, for the moment, but how long would it remain safe?

The guilder started to drop faster. Just a little at first, as the news filtered onto the floor. Then, it really started to fall. $53 to the guilder was not followed by $52.90 but by $52.00. Next, the price was $50 to the guilder.

Then a surprising thing happened. Prince Karl Eusebius von Liechtenstein started buying guilders. True, he was buying them with Ferdinand's new silver-backed bank notes, but considering that Amsterdam was under siege, those notes were starting to look like a good deal to a lot of people.

The price of the guilders started to drop a little slower and, oddly enough, the Holy Roman notes started to rise a bit. There was something the notes could buy outside of the Holy Roman Empire, after all. This would have been fine with David, except that the guilder was still dropping against the dollar.

When the guilder hit $45, David stood up. Over the last couple of years David Bartley had gone from short and skinny to tall and skinny. His new height made him noticeable, but he still felt like he looked like a geek. Here in this room, though, people were judged by their bank balances more than by anything else. Here, David Bartley was imposing.

Trading continued. The guilder continued to drop, but people were watching him. He could see and feel it. As he stepped to the floor he made a "come here" gesture. The gesture meant "I'm buying at the last offer." The last offer had been $39 to the guilder. David was mobbed, but he kept making the gesture.

For almost an hour people sold guilders and he and Karl bought them. The price hit $37.50 to the guilder. Finally, slowly, people began to hesitate.

Why were they buying? What did they know? David could hear the murmurs. The price was holding.

David made a bid on some of the Wisselbank notes that Karl had bought, but he shook his head. David was buying, but Karl wasn't selling. Some of the players noticed. The price of guilders started to rise. David kept buying, so did Karl.

David Bartley spent twenty-seven million dollars in the space of about two hours. It was twenty-seven million dollars that wasn't his, but very few people knew that. Still, the guilder closed at $47.50 to the dollar. Smiling like he knew something no one else knew, David went back to his table and finished his cocoa.

Karl walked over to David and asked, "I know why I was buying, but why were you?"

"Maybe we ought to have a talk," said David, and led Karl to the room Sarah was using to watch the show. They had not wanted people to think that the government was exerting influence through Sarah's parents. From the prince's expression, keeping Sarah out of sight had been the right move.

Sarah grinned like a Cheshire cat when she noticed his expression. "No, you've read it at least partially wrong," she said. "Neither I nor my parents attempted to exert any influence on David. It wouldn't have worked anyway. You've forgotten that I am the CFO of OPM. While we do want to avoid the collapse of the guilder, David wouldn't have put OPM resources into it unless it was a good risk."

"So what do you know? What makes it a good risk?"

"We're gambling," David answered. "Did you know that Brent Partow is a student of military history, and his brother Caleb even more of one?" This was a total bluff. Brent Partow had been interested in all things military for about a month after the Ring of Fire. David had no real idea how deep Brent's older brother's interest went.

"You don't think Don Fernando can take Amsterdam, do you?"

"No, we don't. If he takes Amsterdam at all, it certainly won't happen very quickly. Unfortunately, that may not matter that much. The issue with the bank money is going to be availability, not silver, which will hurt you as much as us." David had dealt with Prince Karl before and knew that the prince was bright, capable and conscientious, but he had a weakness, one that David was prepared to use. Karl believed in taking care of number one, and he preferred to assume everyone else felt the same way. David was pretty sure that Karl wasn't truly incapable of non-self-centered acts, but his bias did color his vision a bit.

"So, I ask again, why?" Karl wasn't thrown off that easily.

Sarah came to the rescue. "Why did you? If Don Fernando doesn't win quickly, you're looking at having that money tied up in Amsterdam behind siege lines. That's going to make it rather harder to get to than the HRE gilders you traded for them. Unless something is done, they are going to lose more and more value. The trade through Amsterdam will die. It will take years to grow back elsewhere. Why did you buy guilders?"

Karl discovered suddenly that he was sitting in one of the chairs in the conference room. He must have sat down, he was clearly seated. He just didn't remember moving. He had had several reasons for buying guilders. First, he figured that with his connections, they were worth more to him than to a German merchant. He had also wanted to bring up the price of the Holy Roman Empire guilder in the Grantville market, largely because that's what much of his money was. He had some financial obligations that were best handled in bank money, or would have been, before the siege.

The real reason, though, was that he had seen a bargain and gotten carried away. He had been buying, David started buying and, well, face it… he had been caught up in the moment. He didn't really need that much bank money. At this point, that didn't matter much. If he, or David, started selling, the guilder would collapse in the Grantville market. Karl was so stunned that he didn't notice that David never answered his question.

"Well, it's stopped for now, Tony," Coleman Walker said on the phone that night to Tony Adducci.

"You think it will hold?"

"I'm not sure. The way I heard it, David Bartley and that prince from the HRE were cooperating to corner the market in Dutch guilders. I'm starting to wonder if we got took."

"The way I got it from Fletcher Wendell is that Prince Karl was trying to get Wisselbank notes because he figured that Don Fernando would honor them for him even if he wouldn't for a bunch of Dutch merchants. He is an allied prince, after all, or at least his uncles are. David saw an opportunity to make it look like they were trying to sew up the market and took it," Tony defended David. "So how much is the bank out?"

"Nothing yet," Tony could hear the dissatisfaction in Coleman's voice. "The Bartley boy pointed out that if he just acted as an agent for the bank there would be another run as soon as the word got out. To make it work, the guilders would have to appear on the OPM books. So he proposed that we give OPM a low interest loan and a guarantee to buy the guilders at cost. He got Franz Kunze to go along with it. We probably should have gone to Herr Kunze in the first place. Anyway, for now, OPM is sitting on the guilders and the bank is just showing a loan. We won't have a loss on the books till the loan comes due and we have to take Amsterdam's waste paper at cost."

"That's great, isn't it? From what I hear, Frederik Hendrik figures that he can hold. We may come out of this all right."

"Maybe, but the longer the siege goes on the worse it's going to get."

Tony was convinced that Coleman Walker made pessimism into an art form. "The dollar has been going up against the guilder right along. By the time the siege is over, confidence in the guilder could be so low that they won't be worth what the Bartley boy paid for them during today's panic. The only way that we could prevent that from happening would be to increase the number of American dollars. We could probably manage that, but while the dollar has deflated over the last two years there has been inflation in German currencies to compensate."

"You've mentioned that before, Coleman," Tony Adducci agreed, while thinking Over and over again, you've mentioned it.

"Why would the up-timers want to save the guilder? It makes no sense. If the guilder collapses their American dollars will be worth more and they will be richer," Josef Gandelmo, Prince Karl's tutor, wondered aloud later that evening. A little more than a year earlier, Karl had called Richelieu a dotard in this room. Josef looked at financial matters in terms of what they accomplished. What David had done was stop the Dutch guilder from collapsing. To Josef, that probably meant that David had meant to prevent the Dutch guilder from collapsing. The question became: why a strong guilder? It seemed to him to be to the up-timers' disadvantage.

"It does make sense in a way, Josef. Remember the lecture series we attended. One was about exchange rates. Having an overpriced currency can price you out of the export market. High value money makes import cheaper but export more difficult. If most of your spending is local, you want a low value currency because the people you buying from are using the same money, so the lower the value of your money, the less you're paying.

"If you're buying more stuff from far away, then you want a high value so that less of your money buys more of theirs. The up-timers have been running a trade surplus since the day they arrived. They apparently wish to keep doing so. Wait…" Karl had apparently just realized what Josef was getting at. "Do you think that David was trying to prop up the Dutch guilder?"

"It seems so. He certainly, with your help, managed to do so," Josef offered. "Now you've provided a reason for it."

"No. If he had gotten a personal loan, then that would be a possibility, but to use OPM funds? I don't think so." Karl shook his head. "Some of the up-timers are fanatical about their reputations, you know, and David more than most. Fiduciary responsibility and all that, they take it very seriously. If David used OPM funds to save the guilder at the expense of the fund stockholders, it would destroy his reputation." Karl paused in thought. "Could he have some arrangement that protected the stockholders?"

"That's possible. If he does, then we should not bandy it about. OPM has a bit over half a million Dutch guilders. As of now, Your Highness, we have more invested in saving the Dutch guilder than OPM does. Almost twice as much."

Karl and Josef paused to listen to the evening news on the up-time radio. Radio, in Karl's opinion, was a marvelous thing, as important to him as indoor plumbing, frankly. The nightly news program helped him project what might or might not happen in the surrounding area, keep up with events, and determine where to place his investments. He was shocked, though, to hear his own name mentioned.

"This is Hans Gunter, reporting for Voice of America. Today was an interesting day in the money market here in Grantville. With the siege closing in around Amsterdam, the famed bank money of Amsterdam started what at first appeared to be a fatal plunge. Then Prince Karl Eusebius von Liechtenstein and Master David Bartley unaccountably began buying. The Wisselbank money finished the day at an impressive $47.50 to the dollar. The market is asking itself: what do these two young men know? We have with us tonight Karl Gottlieb, of the Street.

"Karl is an expert in the histories and psychology of the financial movers and shakers who affect the market. Karl, just how much of a surprise was today's play by these two relatively young men?"

"Very," the financial expert answered. "Neither one of them has a reputation for this sort of risk taking, though for very different reasons…"

Karl was a bit miffed to hear this Gottlieb person discuss his motivations for all to hear. Publicity was rapidly becoming extremely distasteful to him. Private business shouldn't be dispersed over the airways for anyone to hear, in his opinion.

The news program, had he only known, went farther and faster than he expected. It was heard in cities and hamlets within a footprint of over thirty thousand square miles. The effect of the interview was to prop up the bank money of Amsterdam throughout the CPE, an effect he was grateful for over the coming weeks.

Franz Kunze, director of OPM, first suggested it in the Exchange Coffee Shop. "Perhaps a visit to the cardinal-infante might help. Don Fernando seems to be dealing with his conquered territory gently." Quite a number of financial movers and shakers found the Exchange Coffee Shop to be a convenient place to grab a quick bite to eat. It was often full of people who played the markets and seemed to be becoming an adjunct to the stock exchange.

"That's a possibility. What should we ask of him though?" Prince Karl asked.

"Perhaps a public statement that he won't loot the Wisselbank," suggested Sarah Wendell.

"Do you think he would actually agree to something like that?" Kaspar Heesters asked, caught between hope and doubt. His father was in Amsterdam. Herr David Heesters had apparently had an opportunity to get out of the city. Kaspar had chosen to stay in order to watch over the family's business interests there.

"It's possible," Don Alfredo de Aguilera said. "He's not obligated to, you understand. Wisselbank silver would clearly be the just spoils of war and the campaign has to be stretching his finances to the limit. He might do it though, if given adequate reason."

"To keep every market in Europe from collapsing! To keep millions of people from losing everything, that's a reason," Kaspar replied, exaggerating more than a little. "You know as well as I do what will happen if the Wisselbank is looted by Don Fernando and the Dutch guilder is rendered valueless."

"Don't overstate the case," Don Alfredo corrected, waving to the waiter for another cup of coffee. "The economy of Europe is not dependent on the Dutch guilder. At most there will be a minor correction in the money markets. Some will lose, some will gain." Don Alfredo was understating the case just as much as Kaspar had overstated it.

"Don't make light of either," Prince Karl said in turn. "Yes, the markets will correct themselves but not that quickly and not without damage."

David considered the suggestions for a moment. "I think Herr Kunze and Sarah have come up with an excellent approach. We go see Don Fernando and explain what the consequences of his looting the bank would be and ask for his public assurance that he won't. How would we arrange a visit?"

"However we arrange it, David," Karl Schmidt, his stepfather, interrupted. "You won't be going. Amsterdam is still a war zone. I doubt Delia would agree and I know your mother wouldn't. I prefer a reasonable amount of peace and quiet in my household. Besides, if you plan on graduating with your class there is only so much school you can afford to miss."

David got a stubborn look on his face. "Karl, I decided to invest in the guilders. I'm obligated to see it through. And I'm far enough ahead that a couple of months away wouldn't hurt me at school. If anyone goes, I'm going."

Don Alfredo accepted a glass of wine from one of the von Liechtenstein servants. "I do not know if it will help or not. But, I think we must try to speak to him," Don Alfredo finally agreed. "A delegation, do you think? You, me, some of the others, Franz Kunze, particularly, I think."

Prince Karl nodded in agreement, pleased by this development. It had taken some days to get Don Alfredo on board. "Yes. I also believe we must. David will be coming, you know. Having invested OPM's money, he will insist on it. We need an adult up-timer, though."

"Why?" Don Alfredo asked. "Are we not men of substance ourselves? Up-timers are not the only people of knowledge in the world."

"To look after David." Karl grinned. "Sarah Wendell suggested it. No, Alfredo, I am not seriously suggesting we take along a nanny for David Bartley or that we lack substance. Still an up-timer will add weight to our arguments and answer technical points that are still new to us."

For the second time in less than three years Mike Stearns was busy forging a new government out of bits and pieces of whatever he could find. This time it was in Magdeburg. He had more pieces now, but it was a bigger government. "What is it now, Francisco?" he asked, with a tired-sounding sigh.

"Apparently Horace Bolender wants to send Fletcher Wendell to Amsterdam. A bunch of merchants want to have a little chat with the cardinal-infante and they want him to go along. Prince Karl Eusebius thinks Fletcher, with his knowledge of the way economies work, will be a good addition to their delegation."

"Why do a bunch of merchants want to talk to Don Fernando?" Mike asked. "What good will that do?"

"There was an aborted panic about the Dutch guilder when the siege of Amsterdam was closing in, Mike," Don Francisco explained. "It seems like these people think they can talk the cardinal-infante out of looting the Wisselbank. They think, and I stress think, that if he promises not to loot the bank it will help keep the economy stable. Anyway, Horace has Tony and Coleman signing off on the request. It seems Mr. Wendell is fairly good at economic theory and making it understandable to others."

Normally, Mike would have paid a bit more attention to such a plan. Now; however, he was in the process of forcing the USE down the throats of a whole bunch of nobles. Most of these nobles wouldn't have agreed to the measures Gustav had planned for the CPE two weeks earlier, much less the program Mike had in mind.

The relatively minor matter of several merchants going to have a chat with Don Fernando of Spain was given about five minutes of his time. Then, he turned the matter over to Francisco Nasi.

"Fine, if Fletcher's willing to go and you think it's wise. Make sure they don't do anything to upset Rebecca's apple cart, Francisco. Very sure! Oh, and try to keep them from getting themselves killed."

Francisco Nasi was rather busy himself these days. Still, he was a bit more involved with the markets in Grantville than Mike was. For now he tentatively approved the plan. He would leave whether Fletcher Wendell went up to Mr. Wendell. If Fletcher did decide to go, Francisco would have a chat with him when they came through Magdeburg on their way to Amsterdam. He sent a message to that effect and turned his attention to the many other matters he was concerned with. One of those concerns was to send notification to the Amsterdam diplomatic mission, and prepare Rebecca Stearns for the arrival of the trade delegation.

In the Wendell kitchen, back in Grantville, the trip was of more immediate concern. "Judy, I really think I ought to go." Fletcher went to give her a hug. "I don't think I'll be gone more than a couple of months at the most."

"I wish I could go," Sarah muttered, flopping down into her favorite chair. "It was my idea, partly, anyway."

"I know the school is being fairly understanding about absences due to work, Sarah," Fletcher responded. "But your education is more important, as far as I'm concerned. David's going, that's all the teenager I want to have to deal with."

"Sarah, you'll get your chance to travel," Judy the Elder noted. "Just not right now. It's bad enough that your dad is going. Yes, Fletcher, I know you need to do it. I'm not that crazy about it, considering you're going to be traveling through a war zone, but I understand. Just try not to get hurt."

Fletcher circled Judy the Elder with his arms and placed a kiss on her cheek. "Have I ever mentioned what a good little wife you are?"

Fletcher hadn't thought it out. He'd hugged Judy from behind. Her elbow met his midriff with some force. "Omff."

Judy the Elder turned around and frowned at him. "Don't get any ideas, buster. I'm not that happy about being left to deal with two girls on my own. Still, I understand. If you can keep the European economy stable, well, you need to."

Outside Amsterdam, in Vredenhof, the villa Don Fernando was using for a headquarters, Miguel de Manrique held up a sheet of paper. "I have an interesting letter here, Your Highness."

"Yes?"

"It's from Prince Karl Eusebius von Liechtenstein and a group of merchants. They would like to visit to discuss the economic effects of the siege. They request 'a little of your time if it would be convenient.' A Spaniard, Don Alfredo de Aguilera, will be coming, too, as well as several German merchants of generally good reputations and large purses, and an up-timer financial expert."

"Well, merchants generally show up at a siege. This is a rather unusual group, though. What do we know about the prince and the up-timer?"

"I'll find out."

Some days later Miguel had an answer. "Your Highness," Miguel spoke quietly, "I have that report you asked for."

Don Fernando looked up with a sigh, "Which report, Miguel? I seem to fill my days with one report after another. Please tell me this one is at least amusing."

Miguel shrugged. "Not amusing, then, Miguel?" Don Fernando asked. "What is it then? More supply problems? The fleet wants to move a few more miles out to sea just to be safe? The Inquisition has gone on a rampage?"

"I doubt the inquisitors would dare, Your Highness. I believe we were fairly firm with them. No, this is about the people who want to visit you, Prince von Liechtenstein and his party of merchants."

"Ah, yes… that report. I don't suppose the up-timers are here to sell me a marvelous siege engine, one that will reduce Amsterdam's walls to gravel?"

"Not at this time, I fear. I have quite a bit of information, though. One visitor is the 'chairman of the board of directors' of a very wealthy entity called 'Other People's Money.' It is a mutual fund, I'm told. Another is called a 'financial expert' from up-time. I have a prospectus here, and an annual report from this OPM, as well." Miguel passed the papers over to Don Fernando and waited patiently as the prince read through them.

"Is this true, Miguel? Does this OPM truly have this kind of money?"

"Of that, I am not sure, Your Highness. It will take some time to confirm. I do have some information on Prince Karl, also. It seems that his father was in business with the traitor, Wallenstein, a number of years ago. A bit later in their lives, he tried to have Wallenstein executed for treason, which, you must admit, is fairly standard for Ferdinand's court. A very wealthy young man, and, unlike his uncles, Gundaker and Maximilian, who support His Majesty, Ferdinand II, it appears that young Karl is making certain overtures to Wallenstein."

"Yet another traitor, Miguel?"

Miguel shifted a bit uncomfortably. "His lands, many of them, are now in the territory claimed by Wallenstein. I'm forced to admit, were I in his position, I might have to do the same."

"All right, set up a meeting. It might prove to be amusing after all."

They had arrived at the siege of Amsterdam almost a week before. Now they were seated around a large table in the dining room of the estate Don Fernando was using as his headquarters. It was the third day of talks between Don Fernando and the Grantville merchants. The group had made their request and Don Fernando had agreed to it without hesitation. However, simply assuring the world that he would not loot the Wisselbank didn't strike him as all that good a solution. He wanted more information on effects of the siege. Now, finally, they were getting down to the reasons the merchants felt this action had been necessary.

"If the Dutch guilder disappears or is drastically devalued, more money must be introduced into the economies of the nations that that use the guilder as currency for large-scale transactions," Fletcher Wendell explained. He knew he was being too technical, but he didn't want to sound like he was talking down to Don Fernando. "In the United States of Europe, the guilder represents a small but significant percentage of the money supply because of its consistent value. New United States dollars were initially set at a price in guilders. After their introduction, the dollars have been allowed to float, but we still use the guilder as the primary currency they are compared to. The sudden…"

"I am interested in how your American money works," Don Fernando interrupted. "This dollar, it is not backed by anything, no gold, no silver. You seem to print it at need. Yet, from what I'm told, it is generally accepted in the German states. Why?"

"The dollar is backed by the full faith and credit of the New United States, Your Highness," Fletcher said, "And we don't print it as we need it. We print just enough to keep the economy running."

" 'Full faith and credit'? Those are just words. Why could I not start printing money?" Don Fernando demanded.

It was immediately apparent to Don Fernando that he had said something silly or perhaps offensive. The clear desire of everyone in the room was to have someone else explain his gaffe to him, just so they wouldn't have to. People were looking at one another with that "you tell him" look that he had occasionally seen in his tutors when he brought up an indelicate subject. "Prince Karl, it appears I am in need of correction and my other guests are not anxious to provide it. Would you kindly explain?"

"Ah, it is a somewhat delicate subject, Your Highness. Forgive me, please, for being blunt. The question becomes 'whose words can be believed'? The Spanish crown has found it necessary some three times in the last century to default on its loans. That experience has… ah, weakened the faith placed in the Spanish crown and somewhat limited its credit."

Don Fernando nearly asked what printing money had to do with getting credit, but the up-timer, Fletcher Wendell, stepped in. "At heart, at the most basic level, money is a loan. It's a loan from the people who use the money. The same things that cause a government to default on a loan cause them to inflate the currency. If a country defaults on a loan, people lose faith in that currency."

Don Fernando looked at Karl and Fletcher, somewhat startled. The prince had indeed been blunt. On the other hand, Don Fernando had not himself been involved in those defaults, so was prepared to listen. "Very well, you have explained why I can't but not why the up-timers can. Why can they print money and have it accepted?"

"Not once in the history of the United States has it ever defaulted on a loan. Not once. Not back in the up-time U.S., and not here in the down-time," Fletcher answered. "Not through revolution, economic boom or bust, wars and world wars, and not even now, after having a small part of the nation transported through time to the middle of a war."

"More than that," Karl added, "you can't look at the cliffs left by the Ring of Fire and not know that it must be the work of God. That gives the up-timers, ah, well, a certain amount of credence to start with. They arrived with good references." He held up his hand when it looked like Don Fernando was about to explain why the origins of the Ring of Fire didn't matter.

"I am no theologian, and I make no pretense of knowing God's intent in placing them amongst us. Still, after seeing the Ring Wall, as it's called, the question isn't why should we trust them, but why shouldn't we. So far they have not given anyone reason to doubt the value of their currency. Nor do I think it likely that they will."

"Yet, what you ask me for is simply my public word, my word, that I will not loot the Wisselbank. I won't break my word if I give it, but why do you believe that I won't?"

"The guilder has not collapsed, not yet," Franz Kunze answered. "It's fallen but not collapsed. How far it falls depends in part on how likely most observers think you are to actually take Amsterdam. If you give your public word not to loot the Wisselbank, that is one more bit of assurance that the money is safe, still good. Some people will trust the guilder because they don't think you'll take Amsterdam. Others will trust the guilder because you have given your word and they believe it. Some of the trust will be partly for one reason and partly for the other.

"It really isn't a question of whether we," Franz waved to include the delegation in his statement and continued, "trust you. It's a question of whether merchants all over Europe trust you. To be quite blunt, some will and some won't. We are hoping that enough will to restore some of the confidence in the guilder.

"If you, having publicly given your word not to loot the Wisselbank, break your pledge, it will be like Spain has again defaulted on your loans. Quite frankly, if Spain defaults on its loans for a fourth time, it's unlikely, maybe even impossible that it will ever get another one. There are just too many other places for people to put their money; places where they can invest it and watch it grow. They'll put their money in those safer places, places that offer more profit, like Amsterdam was, before the siege. Places like Grantville, Magdeburg or Hamburg."

Don Fernando gazed out over the bay. He had never wanted to be a cardinal. He had certainly never wanted to deal with the sort of religious complications brought up by the Ring of Fire. What did God mean by placing a small piece of a future in the middle of the Germanies? Don Fernando didn't know, and wasn't sure that he wanted to.

It was evening and he was tired after the day's meetings. The sun was setting red across the bay. The sleeping garden was tinted by the evening light. Don Fernando knew what Richelieu claimed was the reason for the Ring of Fire. He also knew why Richelieu had said it. The up-timers, on the other hand, didn't claim to know why the Ring of Fire happened. They said, by their actions and in their words "you must decide for yourself." There were quite a few things the up-timers could have said that would have been greatly to their advantage. They hadn't said those things. Why not? Don Fernando wondered.

Miguel de Manrique interrupted his thoughts. "How did your meeting go, Your Highness?"

"I'm honestly not sure, Miguel," Don Fernando said. "We got onto the subject of why the American dollars are accepted in the Germanies. From there we went on to discuss the Ring of Fire and what it means."

"Did the up-timers claim the authority of God then?"

"The up-timers were unwilling to say what the Ring of Fire means. That, in itself, says something about them. How many princes do you know, Miguel, who, having such miraculous origins, would not claim divine authority? Cortez claimed to be a god, but these people don't even claim to speak for Him.

"Prince Karl pointed out that, whatever the good Lord intended, one effect was to at least start the up-timers out with a good reputation. A truly monumental understatement, I suspect. I have been standing here looking out at the sunset wondering what it means." Don Fernando shook himself. "One thing is clear; I am a better soldier than I am a cardinal."

"They are right about one thing, Your Highness," Don Alfredo said. "There will be real consequences to the economies of several states if the Wisselbank is looted." They were in Don Fernando's private study, going over the day's discussions.

"You have used that term, economy, several times. You use it in what seems to me an unusual way. How would gaining the silver in the Wisselbank damage the Spanish crown's household management?"

"It's an up-timer usage of the word, Your Highness. Their idea of the economy is somewhat larger than even the broadest sense we have for that word. To an up-timer, the economy of Spain includes every peasant gathering wood, every merchant, every item he buys or sells, every housewife buying needles, all of it, summed up together. The economy of Spain is a part of the economy of Europe. The Spanish economy affects, and is affected by, the economies of France and the CPE, ah-United States of Europe, as well as by every little state in Italy. They are all interconnected and each one affects all the others, to one degree or another.

"It is the economy of the Netherlands that would be most affected by the looting of the Wisselbank, but it would spread from there to every nation in Europe. Merchants who found some part of their money worthless would no longer be in a position to buy cork or Spanish wool. That inability, in turn, would bring down the price of that wool or cork. Then, if the price is lower, that would decrease the taxes paid to the crown. The point is-it's all interconnected."

"The point is," His Highness, Don Fernando, corrected in a cool voice, "if this siege lasts as long as it looks to, I won't gain a rich province but a broken one. The Netherlands are rich, but from what you and your friends have said, they won't stay that way if trade is interrupted for long. What can be done about that, I wonder? The wealth of Amsterdam is trade and an interruption of that trade could well destroy it.

"When I take Amsterdam I want a city of wealth, a jewel to add to the Spanish crown, not a broken wreck. So tell me, Don Alfredo, with your friends and your up-timer expert, how am I to do that?"

De Aguilera looked at him in shock. "I don't know, Your Highness."

"Well, go find out." Don Fernando waved him out.

***

"Don Fernando wants his omelet without as much as a cracked egg. Now all we need is a transporter to move…" Fletcher paused. "Move the bank. For that matter, move as much as we can of the bank's auxiliary institutions to some other city. It would work if we could do it." Fletcher gazed, unseeing, at the lovely wall hangings the room was furnished with.

"I don't see how we can," Franz said. "Why would Frederik Hendrik agree? Or the Amsterdam city council, for that matter. The Wisselbank is a city-owned institution."

"We simply need to find something that they want in exchange," Karl said.

"And what would that be?" Don Alfredo asked. "Remember that it must be something that Don Fernando is willing to give."

"I have no idea," Karl answered. "Perhaps we should ask them? First we will need to get Don Fernando's agreement in principle."

"I think Brussels would be an excellent place for the Wisselbank," Miguel suggested with a sly grin. "It's your capital, after all, and the Wisselbank deserves a prestigious location."

"I quite agree, Miguel. Brussels would be an ideal location." Don Fernando laughed. "But I suspect that Frederik Hendrik will disagree."

"Actually, I tend to agree with Don Miguel's suggestion, Highness, at least as an opening position," Don Alfredo remarked. He was getting almost used to being in the prince's private study. "Start with Brussels, at any rate. He must have some room to negotiate, after all. There will be a problem, though. The Wisselbank managers and the Amsterdam city council, they are the ones that chartered the bank, not Frederik Hendrik or the states general. The managers and the city council will not want the bank moved out of Amsterdam. They will especially not want it put under Spain's control."

"Then you and your friends will have some negotiating to do, will you not?" Don Fernando smiled.

Don Alfredo shrugged with the arrogance of a hidalgo born. "We'll try, Your Highness."

Frederik Hendrik was waiting as Rebecca was ushered into his private chambers. He had heard about the delegation from Grantville. He had been halfway hoping that Don Fernando would clap them in irons and perhaps offend the USE enough to produce a relieving force. Then Rebecca outlined the Spanish prince's proposal. Apparently, it was to be Spanish cleverness, not Spanish arrogance that would rule the day.

"They want me to give the Wisselbank to Don Fernando? That is ridiculous. Besides, I can't do it. The Wisselbank, the Lombard Bank and the exchange are chartered by the city of Amsterdam, not by me."

Rebecca just looked at him. They had gotten to know each other a bit over the last month or so. Rebecca knew full well that the offer wasn't ridiculous, but rather a first offer to begin the bargaining. She knew that he knew it, too. Rebecca also knew that even though the Wisselbank was chartered by the city of Amsterdam, under the current circumstances whatever Frederik Hendrik agreed to was going to happen.

"All right, Rebecca," Frederik muttered unhappily. "So Don Fernando is proving to be clever. I had almost hoped… Well, no matter."

"I understand how you feel, but it's still better this way. Just as things are better without another Alva," Rebecca commented. "Now, we must counteroffer, as well you know. What would Don Fernando agree to?"

"He's not getting the Wisselbank in Brussels. I'll not agree to that. Neither will the members of the city council who are still in town. In fact, getting them to agree to move it at all will not be easy. They will have to get something for it, something substantial."

"That seems like a reasonable assumption. I'm sure we can eventually find a compromise," Rebecca agreed.

Rebecca had performed the introductions and Frederik Hendrik had been very gracious, offering everyone a seat in the meeting room and listening carefully to their explanations. Andries Bicker, the representative of the city council, was obviously disturbed. Bicker wanted the bank open, but he wanted it kept in Amsterdam. His attitude came across as a sort of groveling resentment.

"What brings you through a siege to visit Amsterdam?" Frederik Hendrik asked. "I know the outline of what you have done but not really the why of it."

Looks were passed among the group and ended up on Fletcher. "We want the Dutch guilder to survive as a viable currency, especially the bank money. It facilitates trade and allows a fairly constant money for other currencies, including the New U.S. dollar and probably soon the USE dollar, to trade against."

"Why? The failure of the Wisselbank and the loss of bank money would seem to be an advantage to you."

"We want to limit the number of New U.S. dollars to those supported by the product of New U.S. industry. On the other hand, we want enough good dependable money to allow the economy to grow. If we do the first, we can't do the second, not with our own money. So, we suggest that the Wisselbank be moved. Don Fernando offers Brussels as a suitable location."

"Brussels?" Andries Bicker squeaked. "What good does the Wisselbank do Amsterdam in Brussels? Is this the sort of aid you bring us after all the money the citizens of Amsterdam…"

"Calmly, Herr Bicker," Frederik Hendrik instructed. He then turned to Fletcher. "I would likely make the same suggestion if I were Don Fernando. If I agree with this, he can sit back, relax and let the besieged city cart all its wealth to his treasury without having to actually take the city to get it. And, at the same time, he would receive the praise of Europe's merchants. At least, they will praise him until his brother needs some extra cash. Then the merchants of Europe may not be so pleased. The Spanish Habsburgs don't have the best reputation where money is concerned, you understand."

"Yes, sir, that is true," Prince Karl agreed. "However, Don Fernando is not his brother."

"He is his brother's subject," Frederik Hendrik insisted. "To place the Wisselbank in his capital is to place the key to the vault in the hands of King Philip of Spain. Olivares will talk Philip into looting the bank because Gaspar Olivares thinks he can restore the glory of Spain if he hires enough mercenaries. I won't put the Wisselbank into Olivares' control, not even indirectly."

"Yet if the Wisselbank remains here it does neither Europe nor your nation any good," Don Alfredo pointed out. "Not unless you are prepared to loot the Wisselbank yourself. What is the benefit to Europe if you do so, rather than His Majesty, the king of Spain?"

"I would pay it back," was Frederik Hendrik's quick response, "assuming it became necessary to use the funds at all."

"Granted," Franz Kunze gave Frederik Hendrik a respectful nod. "Miss Wendell, the daughter of Herr Wendell here," Franz indicated Fletcher, "had the excellent notion of seeing if things could be settled peacefully through negotiations. When we had the notion of moving the bank, Don Fernando offered Brussels as a possible site. I don't expect you to agree to it, nor do I believe that Don Fernando does. It was an opening bid. The question now is: what is your counter offer?"

Frederik Hendrik sat quietly for a moment. "I see," he finally answered. "I must have some time to consider. Perhaps you will attend me tomorrow?"

As the party left his reception room, Frederik Hendrik motioned for Rebecca to stay behind. When he was sure that no one could overhear his remarks, he turned to Rebecca, with a grin on his face. "That went quite well, I think. What do you think, Rebecca?"

"It went moderately well, yes." Rebecca responded with her own grin. "What will you tell them at tomorrow's meeting?"

"The truth, Rebecca. And the truth is that I will not allow the Wisselbank to be moved to Brussels. Whatever they may say, or even believe, that would be too much of a temptation for Philip, and I cannot trust that Don Fernando will not comply with his wishes. I will suggest Groningen, I think. We won't get an agreement for that, and it's a stupid place to put the Wisselbank, anyway. Still it may encourage my young opponent to make a serious offer."

Frederik Hendrik smiled thoughtfully. "It will do us no harm, in the long run, for Don Fernando to realize that his word is not in question. I do not question his word, myself, even. But, as long he is under his brother's orders and cannot guarantee his brother's actions, any agreement we make with him might be overridden."

"Just how good a point does Frederik Hendrik have about King Philip and Olivares?" Fletcher asked Don Alfredo, when the servants had left the room.

Don Alfredo hesitated. "His Majesty came to the throne when he was very young, just sixteen. His advisors felt that at such a young age he was not ready to assume the duties of the king of Spain." Don Alfredo looked around at his companions, but they were nodding in agreement. "Olivares is an honest man and was chosen to run things until the king came of age. Olivares did, in fact, do a great deal to remove corruption from the court.

"However," he continued, "Philip wasn't encouraged to study or prepare to take on his royal duties. Instead, he was encouraged to enjoy the privileges of his birth. His Majesty is now twenty-eight years old, but Olivares is still mostly running things."

"Sounds like what I've heard," Fletcher agreed. "How are relations between Don Fernando and Philip?"

"Not good," Don Alfredo conceded. "Olivares has encouraged, shall we say, a certain, ah… distrust. Don Fernando is generally sent to posts as far from Castile as Olivares can manage. Don Fernando and his brother have never been allowed to become close."

"All of which means that Frederik Hendrik has an excellent point," Prince Karl said.

Franz Kunze nodded his agreement. "Olivares will want the silver and not just because it's a lot of money. He will want it because he won't want Don Fernando to have it. For that matter, the credit rating and popularity that Don Fernando will get out of this if everything goes well will likely give Olivares pause. It's likely to become a test of loyalty."

"Test of loyalty?" David asked, confused. "How could it be a test of loyalty?"

"Perhaps, a surety of loyalty," Karl explained. "Try to look at this situation from Philip's point of view, or the point of view of Olivares. Here is Don Fernando, a successful general and competent administrator. Why should he not want the throne? To turn the silver over weakens Don Fernando and strengthens the king. If they demand the silver and Don Fernando refuses them, they will take it to mean that he is no longer loyal. Even if he's loyal at the moment, they will feel that that could change as Don Fernando falls under the influence of others. Olivares, and Phillip, for that matter, will feel that the only sure safety is to keep Don Fernando weak."

Karl grinned as some of the delegation members looked at him in horror. "Actually, no, my family is not like that, not at all. I have seen this, though, in the court of Ferdinand, in Austria. Anyway, Olivares and Phillip will start with the presumption that Don Fernando is disloyal and look at every thing he does in that light. Anything Don Fernando does that makes him stronger or more popular will be seen as a step toward taking the throne. Putting the bank in Brussels is going to make them almost as nervous as it makes Frederik Hendrik. They will feel that they must get the silver out of there-partly to get the silver, true, but to keep Don Fernando weak as well."

The bargaining began in Don Fernando's headquarters. "No. Not Groningen," Don Fernando mused. "That is not acceptable. Perhaps Rotterdam."

In Amsterdam the next day, Frederik Hendrik laughed without merriment. "Rotterdam would be excellent," he agreed, "once I have forced the prince of Spain from my territory, and control my capital again. In the mean time; however, there is still the problem of his older brother. Besides, in the event of a peaceful settlement, having the Wisselbank in Rotterdam would make it rather harder for Don Fernando to return my capital. Not Rotterdam."

Negotiations continued, back and forth for several days.

Karl was beginning to feel like the "rubber ball" in the song he had heard at the coffee shop one day. "Brussels, Groningen, Rotterdam, good grief! Can't these two agree on a location for the Wisselbank?"

"It's not really about the location, and you know it. It's about who controls the location. Neither one wants to cede that control to the other. Do you suppose the two of them would agree to a suggestion from us?" Fletcher asked. "How would they feel about Hamburg? That would be convenient for us, and it would take the bank out of both their territories. I'd like to get home before Christmas, you know. It seems like we've been stuck here forever."

"I don't believe that either one will agree to Hamburg," Karl countered. "And it's nowhere near Christmas. You exaggerate. Still, we can try it. It might even give them the impetus they need to agree on a place."

The Hamburg suggestion received such a resounding no from both parties, that Don Alfredo and Karl felt like their ears were ringing. They sat at the table, resting from the ordeal of dealing with two very clever princes, each determined to get the best deal he could.

"See, David, the concept of 'nobility' is not entirely without merit." Karl grinned. "They are both amazingly clever and capable men." The delegation was staying at the inn in Amsterdam that night.

"Philip." David held up one finger. "Charles." He held up another. "Louis." He held up a third.

"I said 'not entirely,' " Karl muttered.

Fletcher snorted. The on-going discussion, well, friendly argument, over the merits of democracy versus royalty had provided entertainment and some irritation for the rest of the group.

"Okay," Franz mused, bringing everyone back to the point. "What do we have? So far, we've eliminated Brussels, Groningen, Rotterdam, Haarlem and Hamburg. Neither one of them is willing to let loose of the Wisselbank, it seems. What if they split it? Keep part in Amsterdam and part of it in a city controlled by Don Fernando? After the siege is settled, I mean. Until the siege is settled, they'll have to use one of Don Fernando's cities. Frederik Hendrik doesn't have a city that's suitable, and I'm sure he knows it."

Karl and Don Alfredo considered the suggestion for a moment. "That might work," Karl remarked. "It just might. They would both have it that way, at least eventually."

"Wait a minute," David said. "Why wait for the end of the siege to split the bank? What about this… the Wisselbank is a full reserve bank, and all the reserves are in one place. About a block and a half over that way." David pointed vaguely, and, Karl noticed with amusement, waved in the wrong direction.

"Suppose the reserves were split now," David continued. "It would remain a full reserve bank. The reserves would simply be split between two locations. Part of the reserves stay in Amsterdam and the rest gets moved to a town controlled by Don Fernando. Say Antwerp. That might solve part of the problem."

"True," Karl said. "If all of the reserve goes to Don Fernando's territory, Philip is going to get greedy and demand the silver. Don Fernando would have to either give him the silver or go into open revolt. If all the reserves stay here, people can't get at their silver. That would cause the guilder to collapse, exactly what we're trying to prevent."

"That's just it," Franz said. "If we only move part of it-if we move, say, a third of the reserve, there will still be two-thirds safe here in Amsterdam. With Don Fernando's promise that he won't loot the Wisselbank if he takes Amsterdam, and Frederik Hendrik's promise that Don Fernando won't take Amsterdam, well, the bank will be protected by two armies for as long as the siege lasts. There will be absolutely no way that Philip can get at the silver that remains in Amsterdam. If he grabs the silver in Don Fernando's territory, he'll hurt himself badly. His reputation will suffer just as much as if he'd grabbed the whole lot, but he'll have a lot less cash to gain."

"In fact," Fletcher added, "if Philip takes the silver in Don Fernando's territory, it's the sort of thing that could push Don Fernando into rebelling. Especially since the whole pile won't be in Philip's hands. The silver that stays in Amsterdam will act as a guarantee of the good faith of Don Fernando and his brother."

"Be careful, gentlemen," Don Alfredo advised. "You're coming perilously close to advocating or accusing or something… Well, never mind. But, please, let's keep our speculation to financial matters. For my peace of mind, if for no other reason."

"Certainly," Fletcher agreed and continued. "A chunk of the silver will be in one of Don Fernando's cities and be available for anyone with bank money to withdraw. I think that there should be another part of the agreement, too. There should be an arrangement to move more silver if the Antwerp reserves run low. For that matter, there ought to be an arrangement to shift reserves to Amsterdam if the bank gets a lot of deposits in Antwerp. That would restore most of the confidence in the Dutch guilder, don't you think? The same thing can be done with the lending bank."

"It looks to be the best we can do," Don Alfredo agreed.

Rebecca continued to sit quietly, hands folded in her lap, waiting for Frederik Hendrik to finish thinking. The delegation had made their proposal of a split silver reserve.

Frederik Hendrik looked up, smiling. "I will move the Wisselbank to Antwerp. I'll do it in spite of Herr Gunthor's objections. It is the best choice, given the sureties the merchants suggest. It is a symbolic victory for Don Fernando that doesn't really hurt us, at least not any more than any other city he controls does. Best if I offer it, I think. Your merchants have done a dangerous thing, Rebecca Abrabanel. They have given me a hope to cling to.

"I told you at our first meeting that I would win the siege but lose the war. I wasn't just talking about the war of armies, as you know. Amsterdam can hold out for at least a year. With the warehouses and their contents, we could probably hold out much longer. A year, though, that will be long enough for Don Fernando to see the wisdom of a negotiated settlement. I knew that before the siege closed in. My biggest concern all along has been what would be left of the Dutch Netherlands after the war is over. A siege would not destroy Amsterdam, not really. A year in which all the business that was done in Amsterdam had to be done somewhere else-that would be different. A year in which the bank and the exchange are closed and the merchants have to take their business elsewhere, what effects will that have?

"I'm the leader of a nation of merchants, Rebecca." There was a glistening in Frederik Hendrik's eyes. "Fifty years, at least, is what it would take before Amsterdam recovered, if it ever did. Now, though, if we can reach agreement, it will not be so bad. If the Wisselbank can reopen its doors and the exchange can resume its functions, Amsterdam could recover in a decade, possibly less. For that… I'll throw the dice, Rebecca. For that, I will risk it all.

"I will only allow it if I am provided with concessions in return and not all of those concessions will be from Don Fernando. From him, well, raw materials will be running out soon, and a tradesman must have supplies. The tradesmen also need customers. Perhaps Don Fernando would see his way clear to allow the import of certain items.

"I'm sure he won't allow food to be imported, but with the amount of grain that is stored in the city's warehouses, I am not greatly worried about food. Leather, though, leather for the boot makers and saddle makers, perhaps that might be allowed, I hope, as well as a few other requirements."

Rebecca nodded, heart pounding with hope. Maybe the Spanish prince would see reason.

Frederik Hendrik continued. "I will also need some solid assurance that the bank will not be looted. The splitting of the reserves, it will help, but I will need more. So from you, Rebecca, I need your miraculous radio between here and Antwerp, so that the merchants of Amsterdam may keep in contact and arrange deals and do business. The radio, it will also be a way to confirm that any more silver shipped from Amsterdam does indeed represent silver that has been legally withdrawn from the Wisselbank and not a loan coerced by Philip."

Rebecca found herself holding her breath.

"I am serious, Rebecca. I will not let it go, not without this concession." Frederik Hendrik slapped his hand on his thigh for emphasis, the sound causing her to start a bit and begin breathing again. "I will not."

"I shall see what can be arranged," Rebecca agreed. "I cannot make a promise, you understand. There are many things to be considered."

"I understand." Frederik Hendrik nodded. "But I will not allow this move unless I get what I asked for. Without some point of contact with the rest of the world, Amsterdam's business community will die."

Back in the embassy the news was good. "This is so not a problem, Rebecca." Jimmy Andersen laughed.

"It really isn't," Jeff agreed. "Radio isn't a secret. Long distance communications without great, big towers is the secret. We can get radio for Amsterdam and Antwerp, no prob."

"Not even," Jimmy enthused. "We'll set up a station here and one in Antwerp. We'll put great, big, hulking cables in both places. It'll be neat."

"A CW link," Jeff added, "forty or so words a minute…"

Rebecca felt her eyes begin to glaze over. Techno-geek was a specialized language, one she didn't understand. She escaped as quickly as she could, and let Jeff and Jimmy indulge their preference without her presence.

"Antwerp?" Don Fernando asked, as they walked along. "That is surprisingly generous of Frederik Hendrik. I agree to Antwerp and I appreciate Frederik Hendrik's offering it. Actually, and just between the two of us, I like the idea of split reserves as well. It has political consequences that could prove useful. Now, about these trading concessions, what does that Dutch merchant want?"

Miguel stifled a guffaw. "Sire, is it really the proper thing to call another prince a merchant? I'm quite sure he would be offended by this." The garden was mostly dormant at this time of year but it was well-arranged. It was a pleasant place to walk and think, even in winter.

"The man deals like a merchant. If he acts like a merchant, I'll call him a merchant. We are not-and you may tell him so-we are absolutely not, going to allow foodstuffs to be transported into the city, if that's what he wants. Nor will we open our lines while he ships in cannon or shot. Gunpowder is out, too."

"He doesn't ask for that, and I don't believe he would think for a moment that you would agree to it, either. However, he does ask that raw materials, like leather for the boot makers, clay for the potters, be allowed through the lines. And he asks that goods, finished goods, be allowed out."

Don Fernando grasped his head between his own hands and pretended to tear his own hair. "Gah! What did I call him? A merchant, wasn't it? This is a military operation, is it not? We are here to take the city, are we not? And yet Frederik Hendrik wants to continue to do business, even through a siege? I am astounded, truly astounded."

Miguel couldn't hold the guffaw back any longer. He broke into laughter, and laughed until the tears ran down his face. Don Fernando, after one amazed look at his usually serious aide, began to laugh also. At first, it was only a small snicker, but it grew and grew, until he, too, was laughing uproariously.

Don Alfredo, who most definitely was a merchant, and quite a good one, waited patiently for the mirth to subside. Eventually, Don Fernando wiped his eyes and calmed down a bit. Still trying to repress more laughter, he said, "Well, Don Alfredo, what do you say to the merchant of Amsterdam's latest proposal?"

"I can't speak to the military effect, Your Highness, but speaking as a merchant, I would think it a very good idea. I will go further, even. What do you want when you have taken Amsterdam? Do you wish a denuded city that will take decades to recover from the siege, like Antwerp? Or would you prefer a prosperous city, one that has not been destroyed?"

"Very well." Don Fernando sighed. "I will allow raw materials through the lines, after the wagons have been thoroughly inspected, and I will allow goods to be exported, as well. However, I will allow export only if my army is allowed to purchase goods as well. After all, equipment does wear out, you know. I, myself, could use a new pair of boots. Why not allow it, after all?"

Don Alfredo looked a bit pained, like he wanted to say something or perhaps use the toilet. "What is it, Don Alfredo? You think I ask too much?"

"You do not ask enough, Your Highness, not nearly enough. Remember… taxes. Taxes on everything that goes in," Don Alfredo waved his hand one way, "and taxes on everything that comes out," he waved his hand the other. "You are the rightful prince, Your Highness. It's only your due. And since you are a good and gracious prince, you don't want your subjects to suffer under a harsh or usurious double tax.

"I believe you should suggest that Frederik Hendrik must stop taxing imports and exports from Amsterdam. He will not agree to this, of course, so a compromise must be reached. A compromise that will insure that the taxes are fair and reasonable, I hope. Your Highness will receive some needed revenue. True, Frederik Hendrik will receive some revenue, but he is trapped in Amsterdam."

No one was laughing now, but slowly Don Fernando and Miguel began to smile. Most of Don Fernando's advance into the Dutch Netherlands had been stopped not by lack of arms but by lack of money and supplies.

"I will consider this proposal. Of course, we will have to make some arrangements for the future, after I have succeeded with this siege." Don Fernando nodded. "You have served Spain very well this day, Don Alfredo. Now I want you to tell me what the results of this agreement will be."

"The Wisselbank is still the Wisselbank," Don Alfredo said. "Now, though, it will have offices in Antwerp and an extra army in defense of most of its reserves. Antwerp already has an exchange, true. The addition of the Wisselbank and the lending bank will go a long way toward helping Antwerp in its recovery. With the trade agreements, the small merchants and tradesmen of Amsterdam will stay in business.

"The taxes both to you and to Frederik Hendrik will continue supporting your armies. Eventually, you will take Amsterdam or reach an agreement with Frederik Hendrik and, through it all, business will go on. The people of the Low Countries, Spanish and Dutch, will suffer less than in most wars. Probably much less."

Don Alfredo got a thoughtful look and seemed to be more thinking out loud than speaking to the prince. "I think someday there will be a statue in Amsterdam, of you and Frederik Hendrik shaking hands. Something like that, anyway. I believe that someday the history books will call you 'the wise.' "

***

"As I said, Rebecca." Frederik Hendrik smirked. "I knew that Antwerp would be accepted. What is your answer to my requirement?"

"It turns out that it will be no problem at all. We will use 'great, big, hulking cables' as Jimmy Andersen describes them. They will be attached to already standing towers here and in Antwerp. That way, even the presumption that we need obvious means to transmit over long distances will be preserved. It will be expensive and you and Don Fernando will have to bear the cost. On the other hand, you will make back the cost of introduction in no more than a year of regular use. Or so I am compellingly informed by Fletcher Wendell and David Bartley."

Frederik Hendrik smirked some more. "Marvelous." He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. Every agreement he could make now was a step toward the larger agreement that would end the siege. Further, each agreement made the siege less damaging to Amsterdam and the Dutch Netherlands in general.

Then Rebecca told him about the taxes Don Fernando had suggested. "Who is advising that pup, Rebecca? Whoever it is I want him assassinated. No, even better, I want to hire him." He laughed.

The counteroffer was subtle. If he agreed, the siege of Amsterdam would become much less of a drain on Don Fernando's resources, a result that Frederik Hendrik preferred to avoid. Unfortunately, he knew he had to agree to this compromise. It was a good one, and would allow Amsterdam's craftsmen to continue their work. They would be able to keep their shops open, and do more than just survive the siege. The merchants would come out of the siege whole, or at least close to it. Amsterdam produced a lot of finished goods, and would now be able to continue to sell them.

Frederik Hendrik was almost sure now that when the siege of Amsterdam ended it would be through negotiations, not combat. Don Fernando was someone he could negotiate with. "We will be haggling over the amount of tax to go to each prince for some time. We will also haggle over who will collect the taxes and where, I expect. When do you expect the radio equipment from Grantville? The Wisselbank and the lending bank need to reopen their doors to merchants outside of Amsterdam."

"Messages have already been sent to Grantville and the messengers will find the providers unusually prepared, I'm told. All by chance, of course." Rebecca smiled. "There will be supplies that have been collected for other uses available. Fortunately, they'll be ready to go.

"I warn you, this will not be cheap," Rebecca continued. "The radios must be made from expensive up-time parts and involve long steel cables. Then there are the batteries and a generator for power and regular maintenance. All these things will cost money, and a good bit of it. Once it is done; however, communication between Amsterdam and Antwerp will be nearly instantaneous."

"It depends on what you're ordering," David Bartley told David Heesters. He had been meeting regularly with Amsterdam's factor for OPM since the party had first been allowed access to Amsterdam. "If it's local items, you're probably going to have to order it through the Spaniards. Anything else will have to go through Antwerp."

"Antwerp?"

"That's where they've decided to establish a branch of the Wisselbank."

"There will be people who won't like that," Herr Heesters pointed out. "Much of Amsterdam's success was, in a sense, stolen from Antwerp. People will be afraid Antwerp will steal it back." They were sitting in Herr Heesters' office in his townhouse. There was a Van Dyck on the wall, David noticed.

"You see, at the beginning of the war, the Spanish were very hard on anyone who was not Catholic and unpaid Spanish troops sacked the city. Many of the merchants of Antwerp escaped to Amsterdam. They came here, where it was safer to practice their faith and where they could do business without the Spanish inquisition poking its nose where it didn't belong. Later, Antwerp was blockaded by our fleet as part of the war for independence. Our stock exchange was actually copied from theirs, as well.

"Now it looks like things are going full circle. We are besieged and the Wisselbank is opening a branch in Antwerp. God has an interesting sense of humor, don't you think?"

"Yes," David answered, all the while thinking about airplanes, fast food and the Internet. "The Ring of Fire and its consequences are proving to be quite… unusual."

"Damn it," Fletcher exploded. "I have a wife and two daughters back in Grantville, not to mention a job. Why is it us that have to go to Antwerp?"

"We're the people they can agree on," Don Alfredo answered. "Frederik Hendrik has few people he can trust and he needs most of them where they are. Most of the city council fled when the siege began. Don Fernando is not allowing just anyone to leave Amsterdam, but we can go. This is only reasonable in a siege, as you know, since the point of a siege is to keep people in. We have freedom of movement, citizens of Amsterdam do not."

"Coleman, have you heard the latest?" Henry Dreeson asked. "The guilder is going up again. It seems like the mission to Amsterdam has been a success, at least so far. We're hearing good things."

"I've heard all sorts of things, Henry," Coleman answered. "I've heard that orders for the Higgins machines are coming in. Trust that group to take care of themselves, all right."

"You're being a little uncharitable, aren't you, Coleman? Of course, David Bartley and Franz Kunze are going to take care of the HSMC and OPM. He's a businessman and that's what people in business do. The guilder is going up, that's the important thing," Henry pointed out. "It was only, what, a few months ago that we were worried about it falling forever?"

"This one will do, I think," Karl remarked. "It's tall enough, and it has the space we need. What do you think, Don Alfredo, Herr Kunze?"

"It will be well enough," Franz answered, looking at the building. "We must see these managers and have a meeting. I wish someone from Amsterdam could have come with us, to make recommendations. How do we know that the men Don Fernando agreed to will actually do their best for the bank, and not merely the best for themselves?"

"I'll have to check my figures," Jimmy Anderson advised. "We'll need to consider structural stress. Also we'll want to talk to whoever knows the most about the building, what it was constructed from, whether the builder took any short cuts. We don't need internal space in the radio tower, so we can rig a wire connection from the tower to the bank and the Antwerp exchange. How is the city council reacting?" Jimmy Anderson had been borrowed from the USE embassy because the merchants had failed to bring a radio-head along.

"Rubbing their hands together and chortling a lot," Don Alfredo answered. "They aren't fond of Amsterdam. I think the biggest problem is going to be that Antwerp will try to 'rip off' Amsterdam rather more than His Majesty."

"I wouldn't count on that," Franz said. "From what I hear Philip is already upset about the way Don Fernando is handling the campaign here. He isn't being the 'defender of the faith' that Philip wanted and he is not nearly unpopular enough to suit either Philip or Frederik Hendrik."

"Do you think the Antwerp city council will be a problem?" Fletcher wondered.

He was answered with an eloquent Gallic shrug.

The building would do, Jimmy decided, after spending a week taking measurements and doing tests. He'd done the same thing in Amsterdam. Sometimes being the designated genius was a pain in the tail, as far as he was concerned.

The radio tower needed a tall building, partly for appearances' sake, and one that could take the stress from the cables and the wind blowing through them. It needed to have anchorages for the antenna cables and probably some balancing cables. Even Don Fernando was getting into the act, making an additional request that they find a building where he might make future connections to other cities someday.

Don Alfredo de Aguilera was thinking too. He had come to Grantville from Madrid the first time he visited. He was a subject of the Spanish crown, but now he had met His Highness, Don Fernando, and knew that was where his loyalty lay. More and more it was looking like the Spanish empire was going to break apart in this world before it had in the other one that the up-timer books described.

At first Don Alfredo had hoped that the shock of the future knowledge would weld the empire back together. It didn't look like that was going to happen. Castile was even more set in its ways and more determined to have its own way by force of arms, in spite of the evidence that this method would not work. On the other hand, the people of the provinces were heartened by the knowledge of eventual liberation and anxious to hurry it along.

***

It was done. The months spent in Amsterdam had borne really big fruit. The guilder was recovering nicely throughout the USE, and OPM's guilders had been spent on products in Amsterdam and Antwerp where they were worth considerably more. David conservatively estimated that those products were worth a bit over a hundred million New U.S. Dollars. "So, David, you never did tell me why you bought the guilders," Karl said.

"No, I didn't." And David said no more. Karl probably knew by now and the option to sell the guilders at cost would not be used now anyway. Still, Fletcher Wendell had some reservations about Prince Karl Eusibus von Liechtenstein. It was true that Karl had been quite helpful, but he had had a lot to lose. How helpful he would have been if he hadn't been heavily invested in the guilders was another question. David didn't exactly disagree with Mr. Wendell's assessment of Karl. He just figured it was the way people were.

"So what are your plans now that you have seen a bit of the world?" Karl let the question of buying guilders drop.

David looked out the window of the train that was taking them the last miles to Grantville and considered. Right after the Ring of Fire he had figured he would be going into the army when he finished high school. He still figured that he would be in the reserves. After OPM got started, he had been told that he would not be accepted into the regular service. He was doing a crucial job, according to the government. He guessed it was, in a way. "I don't know. The factories going up in Magdeburg are impressive as all get out."

"True enough. But most of them are at least partially owned from Grantville and Grantville still has the phones and computers," Karl said. "Unless you're going to settle down to run a single factory, I think Grantville is the place to be, at least, for the next few years."

"Back in a few hours, eh, David?" Fletcher smiled, joining them. "I'm about ready to get back home."

"Same here," David agreed, as Fletcher sat down. "I'm glad things got worked out, but it took a while longer than we planned, didn't it?"

"Yes it did, indeed," Fletcher nodded. "I'll be glad to see all my girls."

"We were discussing the future," Karl said, "I'm going to have to come to some understanding with Wallenstein, somehow. But I'm keeping my place in Grantville. I suspect that much of the business of the USE and Europe will be conducted there for some time to come."

"I don't know about that," Fletcher said politely enough. "Magdeburg is the capital of the USE and rapidly turning into an industrial center. I imagine that the treasury and the USE Fed will be located there, probably sometime soon. A lot of the banking will have to be conducted there. The switch from the New U.S. dollar to the USE dollar is going to keep the bank hopping for a while."

"David, I'm glad you're back," Sarah bubbled. This was kind of unusual for Sarah. She wasn't a bubbly girl, normally. The train station was packed with a welcoming crowd.

Brent and Trent enthusiastically agreed. "Nice to have you back," Trent said. "You've got to tell us all about it."

"I will," David said. "I will. We've got a couple of months before graduation, so there's plenty of time to talk. After that, we're probably not going to have much time."

"Why not?" Brent asked. "We get out of school; we'll have more time to work together."

"That's something we need to think about, you guys. What are we going to do once we get out of school? Sarah's Dad and I talked about this a lot, and Karl joined in those conversations. We really need to think about plans."

"What sort of plans?" Sarah asked.

"The army, for one. We'll be in the reserves, I imagine. And business, for another. Karl thinks Grantville is going to stay the financial center of the USE but your dad isn't so sure, Sarah," David said. "It's certainly going to stay the intellectual and research capital for a while. Brent and Trent will mostly be here, probably, but we need to think about OPM. Is staying in Grantville the right thing for OPM?"

"I hadn't really thought about it," Sarah said. "We're doing okay."

"OPM will do all right this year," David said. "Herr Kunze and I were able to spend the guilders in Amsterdam and Antwerp and made a nice profit. But we may be missing a bet, trying to stay in Grantville when the Fed is probably going to move to Magdeburg. We'll probably need to think about that."

"Large fortunes to be made there?" Trent guessed.

"Seriously large fortunes," David agreed. "Look, we made a lot of money. But Karl made even more; and it's all his."

Sarah thought for a moment. "We probably ought to think about it. I'm not sure I want to, but you're right. We have a responsibility to the shareholders to do the best we can."

"David," Coleman Walker said, "I need to talk to you about paying back that loan. I've been trying to for three days now."

"Well, I've been busy," David answered. "But you're right. We need to talk about a lot of things. You'll be glad to know we won't be exercising our sales option on the guilders."

"I know that. I'm mostly concerned about that loan, David," Coleman said. "The bank would like you to pay it back just as soon as you can."

"Why?"

"Because I had to loan Fed money to the bank of Grantville to issue it."

David thought for a moment. Coleman meant that the Fed had created the money to make the loan and it would disappear again as soon as it was paid back.

"As a citizen of Grantville, one who is now more than ever concerned over the overvaluation of the American dollar in the USE, I really can't see any benefit to that loan being paid off early," David pointed out. "OPM accepted that loan and the condition that it would be used to prevent a dangerous monetary fluctuation. It was used for that."

"Why, you…" Coleman began.

"Do you realize how overpriced American dollars are becoming?" David interrupted before Coleman could work up a head of steam. "I'm convinced that the dollar needs to drop against the Dutch guilder, the HRE guilder and the ducat. The reason they're so overpriced is the artificial shortage you've insisted on. You're stifling industrial growth, Mr. Walker. I'm not going to help you do that. OPM has the best part of a year to pay the money back, and we're going to use every minute of it.

"That twenty-seven million is in the economy, Mr. Walker," David insisted. "And that's where it's going to stay. It's barely a drop in the bucket compared to what's needed. Besides, we need the liquidity."

***

"Hello, Leonhard," David said as he walked into his office. "How have things been going?"

"Rather slowly," Leonhard admitted. "With most of the officers away in Amsterdam, there was no one to make some of the decisions that needed to be made."

"I figured that." David sighed. With his hand on the door knob to his office, he turned to Leonhard and asked, "Just how high is the stack of paper in my inbox?"

"Quite high," Leonhard answered with an evil gleam in his eyes. "Quite high."

"You enjoyed that, didn't you?" David asked.

"Me? Oh, no, Master David." Leonhard smirked. "I couldn't possibly."

"Right," David said. "I'm sure. Before I get started on it, I've got a little project for you. Herr Kunze says Don Fernando wants to buy a lot of stuff from the USE. We'll need to check with the government on some of it. Here's his wish list. Look into it, will you?"

David felt his own smirk beginning as he watched Leonhard gape at Don Fernando's wish list. David decided to let Leonhard deal with the government's response to Don Fernando's desire for long distance radios. It would keep him busy.

Overloaded inbox or not, David was happy to be back in his office. Even the tower of paper was going to be easier to deal with than the last few months of high school. Latin was giving him fits. Calculus was even worse. He'd managed to stay caught up in his other classes, but those two were a torment. With finals no farther away than they were, it was going to take a lot of work.

David sat down and began to go through all the proposals that had been forwarded to his desk. "Brent, have a look at this," he wrote on one, then reached for the next.

David read through it then read through it again. "Leonhard! What the hell is this?"

Leonhard didn't look up. "Mrs. Simpson has invited OPM to become a corporate sponsor of the Magdeburg Opera House. She points out that corporate sponsorship is a tax deductible charitable contribution. According to our attorney, we may actually save more in taxes than we contribute. Something about corporate tax brackets, he said. We are in the highest one at the moment."

David continued to read while Leonhard spoke and noted the details of the sponsorship request. In addition to the Opera House there were plans to sponsor a library, a museum, a theater and a college. All good causes he thought, and began to calculate the totals.

All together the bill would come to something close to thirty million dollars over the next three years. From the proposal's details, OPM was not the only corporate sponsor being solicited. Several other businesses were already listed as sponsors.

David checked the approved box and tossed the request into his outbox. Business as usual, he thought, and began to smile.

This'll Be the Day…

Walt Boyes

"I'm looking for Father Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld," the well-dressed man said as he crowded the doorway. "I'm told he has his office here." The man was dressed in black, mostly velvet, with white at the neck and the cuffs.

He was clearly a down-timer, thought Josef, the Jesuit brother who served as doorman for the Spee household. Up-timers habitually referred to Father Friedrich as "von Spee" because that was the way their up-time histories listed him. Down-timers usually called him by his correct territorial name, "von Langenfeld."

"May I say who is asking?"

"I am Father Goswin Nickel."

"Father Provincial!" Josef's eyes grew very wide. "We weren't expecting you… I didn't recognize you… Please come in! Come in, come in!"

"Cease your babbling, my son," Father Nickel said, smiling, as he entered the house. "Please tell me if Father Friedrich is within."

"He is not, Father," Brother Josef said, "He is at the cathedral rehearsing the choir. He has some new Kirchenlieder, some hymns, that he has written for them to sing."

"Please have someone send for him, then, and also, if you would be so kind, have someone see to my horse."

"At once, Father."

The Jesuit provincial allowed himself to be led to the sitting room, where he sat down to wait for Spee. "Spes fuerat, spes Fridericus erat," he recited to himself softly. "In Spee they placed hope, Friedrich was their hope." Perhaps yet again, he thought.

The drum set looked incongruous in the apse of the cathedral, thought Friedrich Spee, even though he'd written the music that required it. The young man who played it was dressed in the style known as lefferto after the up-timer, Harry Lefferts, and he even sported a patch over one eye. The patch, as Friedrich knew, was entirely for show. The young man, whose name was Franz, had told him so, and that he only wore it because he thought it made him look "bad." It appeared that "bad" was somehow good in the new cant of these up-timer-aping youth. Friedrich smiled, and shook his head, ruefully.

Up-timer-aping, indeed. For was not what he had written for the cathedral choir here in Magdeburg up-timer-aping as well? A work for rock band and choir. At least, since he was now on the staff of the up-timer Cardinal Mazzare, he'd had no problem with the nihil obstat and the imprimatur necessary to be able to print the work and get it performed by the cathedral choir. He'd had more problems trying to figure out how to work around the "electric guitar" and the "electric piano" he'd heard in the recording that Cardinal Larry's friend the Methodist minister in Grantville had let him listen to, something called Godspell. He had substituted a massed section of Spanish guittarrones, all played in the up-timer style by a band of surly lefferti, and the cathedral organ. He was sure it was not rock and roll, but it sounded good to him.

What do they say in Grantville, "It's not rock and roll, but I like it?" He laughed out loud at the thought, causing the nearer members of the choir to stare at him strangely.

"All right, then," Friedrich said, tapping his baton on the lectern. "From the start, if you will, please."

Just as the band and choir swung into the first part of the chorale, Friedrich heard a commotion at the back of the cathedral. He swung around, to see several people running up the aisle. They were armed, and one had a huge wheel-lock pistole. The man with the pistole stopped and aimed it at Friedrich. It went off with a thunderous boom, but the ball, thankfully, missed and lodged itself with a great spray of splinters into the pulpit in front of which Friedrich had placed his conductor's lectern.

"Ow, scheiss!" One of the splinters had found a target in the lead guittarrone player. Friedrich turned, but the young lefferto waved him off. "I'm fine, Father. I'm fine."

The cathedral guards had by now caught up with the assassins, if that's what they were, and they were clubbing them down in the narthex of the cathedral. Friedrich strode quickly up to them in a half-run hampered by his cassock.

"Stop it, you!" he shouted. "They are down! Stop it!"

He began to pull the cathedral guards off the small group of intruders, and managed to get the beatings to stop.

"Who are you?" he asked the quondam shooter.

"You are a witch! And a helper of witches!" the man shouted, and was whacked by the end of one of the guards' staves for his pains. "Father del Rio says you are no true Jesuit! He says you are demon-inspired. He says you and your demon friends from the future will deliver us all to the Devil!"

One of the others pulled a knife from his doublet but a guard was faster, and knocked it out of his hand before he could throw.

"Father Friedrich," the chief of the guard detachment began, "I think it would be better-"

"If I were not so close to them until you see who else has weapons?" Friedrich finished for him.

"Yes, Father."

"Fine, take them to the prison, but no more beatings!"

"Yes, Father."

Friedrich turned, and slowly walked back to the altar. He was not surprised to find himself shaking. "I think we've practiced enough for one day," he said. "Let us get back together in the morning after Mass."

Friedrich was just coming down the steps of the cathedral, his unbuttoned cassock skirts flapping behind him when his secretary, Pieter van Donck, rushed up to him. Van Donck was a Flemish seminarian from the Jesuit college and seminary at Douai. He was short and stout where Spee was tall and slender. "Mutt und Jeff," Cardinal Mazzare had called them when he first met van Donck in Spee's company. Of course he had had to explain the up-timer reference, Spee thought wryly.

"Father Friedrich," the young Jesuit scholastic began, panting.

"Slowly, friend Pieter," Spee said, as the young man hyperventilated. "Take a moment, and then tell me what has you all out of breath." Spee ran his fingers through his unruly mop of hair, then put his hand down. A nervous tic, he thought. Mustn't do that. He stroked his short, curly black beard instead, then put his hands down at his sides.

The seminarian gathered himself together. "The provincial, Father. The provincial is in your rooms, waiting for you! He sent me to find you right away!"

Friedrich was still, thinking of all the things that the provincial's unannounced arrival could mean, most of them bad.

"Well, Pieter," Friedrich said, smiling, and holding in all his fears, "we must go to him then, and see what has brought him all this way in such a hurry. Did he bring an entourage?"

"No, Father, he came himself alone."

Friedrich stopped in mid step. "He what?"

"He is by himself, so Brother Josef said, and he arrived on horseback."

Friedrich turned and began to quickly stride up the street to his lodgings. As van Donck tried to keep up with him, Spee broke into a jog. The little fat youth tried valiantly to keep step, but fell steadily behind. Friedrich didn't seem to notice and quickly outdistanced his secretary.

When he reached his door, Spee pushed it open.

"Brother Josef," he said to the doorman, "please tell me where Father Provincial is."

"He is in your sitting room, Father," the Jesuit brother replied, "I provided him with bread and some beer."

"Fine," Spee said. "Now when Pieter comes, please send him along to us there."

"Yes, Father." The brother said it to Spee's back, as the Jesuit swept quickly along the hallway to the sitting room, opened the door and passed inside.

"Father Provincial," he began, going to one knee.

"No need, Friedrich," Nickel said, rising to greet him. "Please, sit down. We have to talk, and there may not be much time."

"Does this have to do with the people who just tried to kill me in the cathedral?"

"Thank God! I was not in time to warn you, but it seems you were able to foil their aim anyway," the provincial said, sinking back into his chair.

"I think that it was not I but the Lord who foiled their aim, or at least made their pistoleer a bad shot," Spee said, smiling and taking a chair. "This has happened before, as you know, and I was spared then as well."

"For this we can thank God, then," Nickel said.

"I came straightaway, Father," Spee said, "so I have no idea who they were. They are under guard at the cathedral prison now."

"I know who they are. Or at least who sent them," Nickel said.

"They shouted the name of del Rio," Spee said quietly, hands in his lap.

"I rather thought they might," the Provincial said. "For three years now, you have been very publicly identified as the author of the Cautio Criminalis. Not only do you not deny it, most have seen the up-timer history books that say it as well."

"You know that I wrote it."

"Yes, and you have done the penance I and Father General Vitelleschi deemed appropriate for writing it contrary to the directions we gave you," Nickel said. "It is done, and it is, for the most part, well done. I agree with you that witchcraft may or may not be real, but these witch trials are hideous perversions of justice and God's law." The provincial's jaw worked.

"Unfortunately," he said, "there are those, both within the Society and without, who do not agree with us."

Spee was silent.

"It has not helped that the general has given you to Cardinal Mazzare to be 'his' Jesuit, along with Heinzerling," Nickel continued. "For those opposed to your view on witchcraft, this only further compounds your sin. You are in league with the Grantville demons who are perverting our Society, so they are saying."

"I see the fine hand of some of our Spanish brothers in this," Spee said, neutrally.

"Of course," Nickel said. "Since the pontiff has allied himself with Grantville, the Spanish crown and those of the church under its control have begun a whispering campaign, not only among the laity but among the religious as well. It seems that the pope has perhaps made league with the devil, and among the most active of his Satan-inspired associates is always the Father General Vitelleschi. Even some of our brethren in the Society have taken this point of view."

"Let me guess," Friedrich responded. "Our brother del Rio."

"Of course. Not only del Rio, but also your old friend and my predecessor as provincial, Hermann Baving. Baving appears to be the center of the campaign. Hermann still hates you, believes in witch trials as a way to rout out Protestants and unbelievers, and has many friends in our order."

"It is likely," Friedrich said, "that even with clear instructions from the father general, we might have a schism in the order over this."

"Yes. And so Father General Vitelleschi has radioed me to come to Magdeburg both for safety, and to confer with Cardinal Mazzare, and with yourself."

"Radioed?" Friedrich was rather surprised.

"Of course, radioed. Did you think the Society of Jesus so backward that we could not figure out how to design and build a radio?"

"Well, I…"

"What? Did you think that Father Kircher would not be able to tell us that you don't need a huge antenna?"

"I suppose not."

"Now you know. The radio is at Paderborn, in my rooms at the college. If you should ever need to use it, you must take somebody who knows the Code of Morse."

Nickel ran his hands through his thinning hair. "The news from Rome continues to be grim, since the Spanish attacked the Holy See. Father General Vitelleschi believes that Cardinal Borja will seek to become pope. He expects this to happen any day, and he does not believe that he, Vitelleschi, will be able to stop it. Especially since it is likely that if Borja's people catch him, or the pope, for that matter, that they'll be killed."

"We shall have a schism, then, for certain."

"Yes," Nickel said. "It is almost upon us. That is why I have come to see the cardinal. Vitelleschi is not sure what will happen, or whether he or the pope will be killed. I am to call a general assembly of the Society here in Magdeburg if he is killed, and we are to elect a successor."

"You will, of course, wish to be housed in the episcopal palace with the cardinal," Spee started.

"I will not."

"What?"

"I expect you may have an extra room here, Friedrich?"

"Well, yes, of course, Father," Spee said, "but…"

"I would rather not broadcast my presence quite yet," the provincial said. "I would rather see what happens, first."

"Your wish, Father," Spee bowed his head and sighed. And it was not yet noon, he thought.

"I need to see the cardinal," Nickel went on. "But I don't want it advertised that I am here. Can you send someone to ask for an audience?"

Young van Donck had come in the room some time before, and had quietly stood inside the door.

"Pieter will go," Spee said. Van Donck looked alert.

"Pieter, go quickly but quietly to the episcopal palace, and see if you can find Father Heinzerling. I believe he is there. Find him, and ask him to come to us, quietly please."

"Of course, Father." Van Donck gave a quick nod to Spee, and bowed his head to the provincial of the Order, and vanished out the door. He could be heard running down the hallway, and the outside door slammed with a great thud.

Spee and the provincial smiled at each other. "Ah, youth!" Nickel said.

"Shall we find something to eat while we wait?" Spee asked.

"Why not? And we can talk about better times, Friedrich," Nickel said as they went out the door and turned toward the kitchens.

"And so I have been studying the music of Grantville," Spee said. "Not just the holy music but the popular tunes. And I have written a work of Kirchenlieder, church songs, that I was rehearsing this morning in the cathedral."

"Their music is sometimes too strange for me," Nickel said. "Rock and roll, for example. Baving says it is the devil's own music, and I am not sure he is wrong, Friedrich."

The kitchen door burst open, revealing young van Donck puffing as if he were one of the new steam engines. With him were two of the cardinal's guard.

"Cardinal Mazzare says you are to come to him now!" van Donck said. "There are new messages from Rome!"

Nickel and Spee hurried to the door. There was a carriage waiting in the alley. They climbed in, followed by the guards and van Donck. As they shut the door, they were jolted back into their seats when the carriage moved.

Van Donck started to pull open the window curtain.

"Don't." Spee put out his hand in warning. "It would not be wise for Father Nickel to be seen."

Within minutes the carriage pulled up to the back entrance of the episcopal palace. The guards hustled the three Jesuits out of the carriage and up the steps into the building. Waiting for them inside the entrance was Father Heinzerling. The normally jovial Jesuit was solemn to the point of tears.

"Come quickly," he said, turning and ushering them down a long corridor.

"Come in, Father Provincial," the cardinal said.

"Your Eminence," Nickel knelt and kissed Mazzare's ring. Spee and van Donck did likewise.

"There, now that's over with," Mazzare said, brushing back his sleeves. "Please sit down."

There was a long conference table littered with maps and papers in the room. At one end, a fireplace, cold and dark in the heat of summer in the Germanies. Above the mantel, a painting of the pope, Urban VIII. At the other end of the room, as if staring the pope down, was a painting of King Gustav, the emperor of the United States of Europe.

They took chairs at one end of the table. Mazzare sat at the head.

"Why are you here, Father Nickel?" the cardinal asked.

"I have been in contact with Father General Vitelleschi, Eminence," Nickel said, "by radio."

"Aha!" The cardinal slapped the table. "I knew it. Mike Stearns owes me money. I told him the Jebbies would be able to figure out how to build radios on the q.t., given enough time. He didn't believe me, but now he will have to." He looked across the table at Nickel. "And what does the father general say?"

"Much the same as he told me when I left Rome in May. And of course, what he predicted," Nickel paused, "has sadly come to pass."

Mazzare grimaced. "And what does the Black Pope think, now that he's been on the run for two months?"

"That he believed that Borja's conclave would elect him pope very soon, and that he, Vitelleschi, and Pope Urban would have prices on their heads."

"That much we know," Mazzare said. "I've just come from a meeting with Piazza, Stearns and Nasi… the Spaniards have consolidated their hold on Rome and the Campania. We think Borja will be declared pope shortly."

"So the general believed two days ago when he radioed me," Nickel agreed. "He sent me to you with some advice for you, and instructions for me."

"Go on," Mazzare said.

"He believes that the pope may be assassinated, like many of the cardinals loyal to the house of Barberini have already been. Father General Vitelleschi told me to tell you that if the pope dies, you may want to think about holding a rival conclave here." Nickel stared at the Grantviller. "And if we find that he is also dead, I am to hold a general assembly of the order under your authority to elect a new superior general."

"Did Vitelleschi say who he recommended as his successor?"

"Me."

"Well, then we must both pray to be spared these cups, don't you think?" Mazzare smiled, a wintry smile.

"Indeed, Eminence, indeed." Nickel matched Mazzare's bitter smile.

"Shall we have an anti-pope, then?" Spee asked quietly.

"It looks like we already do, Friedrich," Mazzare said. "And his name is Borja."

"While we wait for news," Nickel said, "I must be about the tasks that the father general set me. I have his commission as his deputy while he is out of touch, and I think I should begin to draw the reins of the society in before our brothers in Spain begin to do it instead."

"Wise move," Mazzare said.

"Friedrich," Nickel said, "would you be willing to be my secretary for a while this evening? And Meester van Donck as well?"

"Of course, Father," Spee quickly agreed. Van Donck nodded his agreement as well.

"Then, with Your Eminence's permission, might we use this room as our offices for the evening?"

"Yes, of course," Mazzare said. "I will send somebody with refreshments while you work. And now, if you will forgive me, I must see the prime minister." Mazzare swept out of the room.

Friedrich marveled at how different his friend from Grantville had become. Well, not different, exactly, he mused, but the cardinal's hat sat well on him.

Nickel's cough brought him out of his reverie. "So Friedrich, we need to write to Baving, and to the other senior members of the order, and tell them that it is the father general's orders that the Society of Jesus will support the properly elected pope, and that is Pope Urban VIII. You know what to say. Van Donck, come with me, I have other writing for you to do." Nickel moved down the table a ways.

Spee pulled out a piece of paper, and got one of the new metal pens from the inkstand. As always, he began his first letter the same way.

"A. M. D. G," he wrote.

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam-to the greater glory of God…

"Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, priest of the Society of Jesus, this seventh day of August, in the year of our Lord 1635…" he wrote.

Suddenly, he felt a chill. August the seventh, 1635. His mind raced back to his first morning in Grantville, over three years ago, now. He remembered standing in the kitchen of Larry Mazzare's rectory, with the Catholic Encyclopedia in his hands. Standing, trembling, almost unable to read the words on the pages open before him. After three years, he found he could recite them verbatim. "A poet, opponent of trials for witchcraft, born at Kaiserswerth on the Rhine, 25 February, 1591; died at Trier 7 August, 1635."

He could not believe he had forgotten. His pen dropped to the table.

"What is wrong, Friedrich?" Father Nickel asked, hurrying back up the table.

"Ah… nothing, really, Father," Friedrich gave a huge sigh. "Just a personal realization."

"And what was it?" Nickel pressed.

"In the original time line, before Grantville came to us," Spee said heavily, and then paused. "In the original time line, today I would have died in Trier of some plague contracted from nursing soldiers in the hospital. I had forgotten the date."

"Ah," the provincial said. "It must be a shock. To know what might have been."

"I am sure you know about yourself, too, Father," Spee said, looking Nickel in the eyes.

"Yes, and I sincerely hope that I do not become general of the society twenty years before I did, eh, before I would have… ach, there are not the right tenses to discuss this time travel!" Nickel grimaced.

"Friedrich," he said, gently, "this is why I believe that we are not inspired by the devil, no matter what Borja and Baving and del Rio would like the world to believe. Because Grantville exists, Trier has not been overrun, and one of our great hymnists can still write to the greater glory of God. And you were spared yet again, in the cathedral this morning. Now write, for we have an important task, and you have been spared by God to do it."

Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld walked back from the cathedral after the Sunday mass where he had conducted the premiere of his new music. He had noticed that there were many smiling faces, and he'd noticed that the cardinal's foot was tapping in time to the music during the performance.

Spee started whistling as he walked down the heavily graveled street to his lodgings. American music certainly was strange. He'd had the cardinal explain the lyrics of many songs to him, but he still was puzzled, especially by one song in particular. It was beginning to drive him crazy, because the melody was so hard to get out of his head. Like right now, for instance.

He found himself whistling the chorus over and over. "Singin' this'll be the day that I die."

Command Performance

David Carrico

Magdeburg

Friday, October 14, 1633

Franz knocked on the door, and waited impatiently for someone to answer. Marla made a slight grunt, and her hold on his arm became a fierce clutch. He leaned over to her bowed head, and said, "But a moment more, and you will be out of the rain and able to sit." She nodded her head slightly, and he straightened.

At that moment, the door opened and a young woman looked out at them. "Yes?" she said in accented English.

"Fraulein Marla Linder, come at Frau Simpson's invitation," Franz replied.

The young woman opened the door wide. "Please, come in. Wilkommen."

Franz led Marla into the house. The comparative warmth of the sitting room was a very welcome change from the liquid ice of the October rain, and he heard her sigh. Another woman swept into the room from a side door as the maid shut the front door behind them.

"Miss Linder, I am so glad to finally meet you face to face," the newcomer exclaimed.

Franz was in no doubt as to who this was, although he had never seen her before in his life. Even in Grantville they had begun to hear of Mary Simpson, the Dame of Magdeburg, whose grace and courtesy had charmed even the young myrmidons of the Committees of Correspondence.

Marla's fingers clenched on his arm again. "Your pardon, Frau Simpson," Franz hastily interjected, "but it would be a kindness if Marla could sit down."

Mrs. Simpson's beaming smile shifted to an expression of concern, and her eyes widened as she took Marla's hands. "Dear, your hands are like ice! You poor thing." Mary released Marla's hand and began unfastening buttons. "At the end of a long journey, and you're soaking wet and cold. Hilde, help take her coat." With the maid's help, the drenched coat was removed and hung up. "Come with us, and we'll get you warm and dry."

The serving woman led Marla out of the sitting room as Mary turned to Franz. "Please, make yourself at home, while we take care of Miss Linder. Tell me, Mr…" she looked at him in inquiry.

"Franz Sylwester, Frau Simpson," he responded with a slight bow.

Mary smiled. "Oh, good, I was hoping to meet you. We'll talk later, but for right now, do you know if Marla gets like this often? How long has she been hurting?"

"Never have I seen her like this," Franz said, his worry coming to the fore. "She has been suffering for over two days now, since after the rain started."

Mary nodded. "As I thought. If we get her dry and warm, it should ease up. Please, Franz, be seated, and we'll be back with you before long." She turned and hurried out of the room.

Franz took his violin in its bag and Marla's flute in its case from the plastic bags that had protected them from the rain. He set the instruments on a nearby table, then hung the precious bags to dry on a peg next to Marla's coat near the door. He stopped for a moment to look at the bags, and marvel at the stuff they were made from. How plastic was made still seemed like magic to him, but there was no denying how useful the stuff was. Take these bags-they weighed next to nothing, could be folded and stuck into a pocket, yet at a moment's notice they could be taken out and used to shield anything they would contain from moisture. Truly, the future must be a marvelous place if it could produce Marla, the music he was coming to love so strongly, and plastic.

With a smile he started on his own buttons, and moments later his own very wet coat was hung on the next peg in the wall. Finally shed of his various burdens, he took a seat in one of the most comfortable chairs it had ever been his pleasure to sit in. The warmth radiating from the stove soaked into him and the chill left his own extremities. He felt his body relaxing for the first time since the trip from Grantville had begun.

Traveling in Thuringia in the late fall and early winter was unpleasant at best, and arduous at worst. Rain or early snow could turn what roads there were into muddy bogs. Shepherding a grand piano from Grantville to Magdeburg in early October had been… interesting, Franz mused.

The process began when Marla accepted Mary Simpson's invitation to come to Magdeburg and bring 'modern' music with her. The day the letter from Mrs. Simpson arrived, Franz saw a rare mixture of emotions in Marla. She was very excited, which was to be expected; but for the first time in their relationship, Franz saw Marla experiencing uncertainty. It had taken the combined support of Marcus Wendell, Marla's old high school band director, Ingram Bledsoe, her instrument maker friend, and her entire circle of down-time musician friends to convince her that she should take up this opportunity.

Once Marla decided to come to Magdeburg, however, her self-confidence came rolling back like a river flooding over its banks. The metaphor, Franz smiled as he recalled those days, was an apt one; she was as relentless in her focus as a flash flood. The days that followed were very intense, as she gathered music and supplies. Her biggest need, however, was a piano-a good one.

That need for a piano caused a whirlwind inventory of instruments in Grantville. The results surprised every up-timer except Ingram, who was Grantville's resident piano tuner. For such a small town, there were a surprising number of pianos. They found nearly one hundred upright, console and spinet pianos in various states of repair with ages ranging from pre-World War I instruments to one that had been delivered only a few weeks before the Ring of Fire. A fair quantity of the older and more dilapidated instruments were now located in the warehouse-cum-workshop of Bledsoe amp; Riebeck, the new piano manufacturing firm formed by Ingram and Hans Riebeck, the father-in-law of one of Franz's down-timer friends. They all made jokes about the graveyard of old pianos, but actually the craftsmen were mining the instruments for hardware to make new pianos for down-timers.

Marla didn't even consider selecting one of the smaller pianos, though it would have been easier to move. She focused her attention on the larger grand and baby grand instruments. Franz remembered going with her on her rounds of various houses and churches. There were over half a dozen baby grands in Grantville, and she played each one extensively. He also remembered their conversation as they left the last house.

"Well, that was disappointing," she said, as they walked down the sidewalk from the house. "I haven't heard a baby grand yet that I really liked, but that one was just bad."

"So what will you do?" Franz asked.

"I don't have any choice. I have to have one of the big grands."

"Tell me again where they are."

"First Baptist Church has a Baldwin, the Methodist church has a recent model Steinway, and Marcus Wendell tells me there's an old Steinway in the High Street Mansion," Marla said.

"Do you know them well?"

"The ones in the churches I do. I haven't seen or played the old Steinway, but from what Marcus tells me, it needs some pretty extensive work done to it."

"So which one do you want?"

"I don't have time to wait on the mansion's piano to get fixed. Besides, Girolamo Zenti is having a bidding war with Bledsoe and Riebeck for it, and who knows how long it will take to settle that. It will have to be one of the church pianos. I'll take whichever one I can get," Marla answered, "but I want the Steinway. The Baldwin's tone is too dark, and although it's a lot newer than the mansion's piano, it's still old enough that I'm a little afraid to move it very far. No, it has to be the Methodist Steinway. It's going to put a big hole in the church's music program though," she said in a worried tone, concerned about her home church. "I hope that Reverend Jones will forgive me."

Ingram had once warned Franz that when Marla 'shifted into high gear,' she was hard to keep up with. Franz learned exactly what the older man had meant over the next three days, his recollection of which was a little blurred. He moved in Marla's wake, watching mostly in silence from behind her shoulder as she went from office to office and person to person, asking, pleading, demanding and negotiating. Her concern about the effect of this requisition on her home church didn't stop her from making it all the same.

At the end of it, Marla had forged an agreement between several parties wherein the Methodist church agreed to release their grand piano for shipment to Magdeburg. In exchange, the church was to receive some compensation from Mary Simpson's arts league, the use of the best of the baby grand pianos (which happened to be owned by a member of the church, who was also to be compensated), and an option to purchase a new grand from Bledsoe amp; Riebeck at cost when their new company was able to begin manufacturing them. The arts league agreed to pay the costs to transport the requisitioned instrument to Magdeburg, and the government agreed to give Bledsoe amp; Riebeck a tax deduction for the difference between the cost of the replacement piano and the price for which they would normally have sold it.

It was the piano that dictated when they would leave for Magdeburg. Their friends Ingram Bledsoe and Friedrich Braun first had to build a shipping crate for it. And of course, Marla was hovering at their shoulders while they were doing so, anxious that it should be perfect so that no harm should come to her beloved Steinway. It was well designed, well constructed and definitely well padded. She finally agreed it was time to encase the piano and prepare to leave. At that point Ingram, for the first time since Franz had become acquainted with him, became firm with her. His words were, "Marla, if you're here, you will drive us all batty. Even if you don't say anything, you'll make us so nervous there will be an accident. Now, be a good girl and go with Franz, and let us pack your baby up for you."

Franz smiled as he remembered the expression on Marla's face. She was surprised more than anything that a man she considered to be like a favorite uncle would speak so to her, but she did understand the sense of it, and reluctantly-very reluctantly-came away with Franz.

The next morning they went to the church to find that the piano was packed, wrapped in one of those marvelous sheets of plastic-Ingram called it a "tarp"-and sealed with some also marvelous sticky stuff. When he asked Ingram what it was, he thought he didn't hear the answer correctly. "Duck tape?" It gave rise to a number of interesting mental images.

"Duct tape. Duct with a 't,' " Ingram said. "The late-twentieth century's answer to twine and baling wire." And then Ingram had to explain what baling wire was.

Several large and brawny men had been recruited to remove the crate from the church and load it onto the wagon that was going to carry it to the river. Franz remembered his surprise at the size of the crate. He had expected it to be quite large, but it was only about eight or nine feet long, about six feet wide and about four feet high. When he remarked on this, Friedrich looked at him with a supercilious expression-"Of course, the legs come off"-as if Franz were a dunce. Before Franz could hit him, the call came to lift the crate, so his sarcastic friend escaped without lumps.

The crate was lifted with a great deal of heaving, straining and grunting; and with a great deal more it was walked out the doors of the church meeting hall, through the entry and out into the daylight. It had to be lifted even higher to place it into the bed of the wagon, so along with the heaving and grunting, Franz remembered hearing words muttered that properly should not be spoken near a church. It took all their strength, but it was finally loaded onto the wagon and on its way to the riverside.

The River Saale was not very wide or deep at the place where they were to embark, and those who had arranged for the barges had told Marla of the trouble they had in finding one that was large enough to carry the piano yet small enough to navigate the course of the river that far upstream. There were actually two barges awaiting them when they arrived at the riverside-one to carry the piano, and one to carry Marla and her friends and their bags and instruments. When she saw the barges, Marla almost had an apoplectic fit. The larger of the two was for the piano. It seemed as though it almost touched the banks on both sides of the river, yet when she looked at the crate it appeared to be wider than the barge. Ingram and Friedrich consulted with the barge master, then Ingram took out his… "tape measure," Franz thought it was called-another marvelous device-and measured the width of the barge cargo space, then measured the crate, and pronounced a judgment that it would fit. That calmed Marla to some extent, but she was still nervous as they wrapped the harness around the crate and attached the hoisting tackle.

Franz still had a bruise from where Marla's long, strong pianist's fingers clamped on his arm while the crate with the almost invaluable and definitely irreplaceable Steinway was swayed up and out and eventually lowered to the deck of the first barge. She relaxed finally as the deck hands lashed down the crate. Piano and crate together only weighed about a thousand up-time pounds, so the barge didn't settle much in the water, which was a good thing-the river was not only narrow at this place, it was also shallow. In any event, the crate filled the craft from side to side. There might have been room for someone to step between it and the side of the barge, but that someone would have needed a very small foot.

That was actually the most exciting part of the trip. The people were loaded on the second barge in a matter of minutes. Marla, of course, wanted to ride on the first barge with her "baby," but the barge master refused. He said that with the cargo area so full there was only room for his crew. He was right. There might have been five feet between the bow and the crate, and maybe a little more than that between the crate and the stern, which truly was barely enough room for himself, his brother and his two sons to work in. He offered to let her ride on top of the crate. Franz still wasn't sure if the barge master was jesting or not, the man's craggy face was so sober. He thought that Marla actually considered it, but she finally refused, to Franz's relief.

"Well," Marla had said, "here we go." Their bags were being tossed from the dock to the deck of the second barge, so she led the way down the gangplank, followed by Franz and the rest of those who were traveling with them, all clutching precious instrument cases under their arms. The mooring ropes were untied and thrown on deck, and the bargemen leaned into their poles to shove off into the river's current and begin the journey downstream to Magdeburg.

Then the rain began.

Franz's train of thought stopped abruptly when Mary Simpson returned. He shot to his feet.

"Frau Simpson, how is Marla?" The worry in his tone matched the expression on his face. Mary settled into a nearby chair, crossed her legs and waved him back to his own seat.

"Marla is just fine," she said, smiling. "She's changed into dry clothing and is getting warm. She was already starting to feel better when I left her."

"But will she be all right?" he persisted.

"Franz, she is fine." Mary's voice had a soothing note, and Franz finally relaxed back into the embrace of his chair.

Now that his mind was easing, Franz became very aware of the presence of Mary Simpson. She reminded him of Marla. It wasn't a physical resemblance. Neither woman was classically beautiful; Mary's nose was somewhat aquiline, and Marla's chin was a shade too strong. Physically, Mary was a small woman, slightly built, whereas most down-timer men, including Franz himself, had to look up to meet Marla's eyes. And when it came to eyes, Marla's were blue and set in a pale complexion, while Mary's were gray and framed by slightly olive skin. At the moment, Mary's eyes were warm and smiling, but Franz could easily guess that if she became angry they would be storm cloud gray, to match the ice that could sometimes come to Marla's gaze. They both had black hair, but Marla's was glossy, long and straight, while Mary had short wavy black hair turning gray at the temples. That gray hair and the small wrinkles at the outside corners of her eyes were the only things that indicated that Mary was perhaps older than she appeared to be at first glance.

Though there wasn't a strong likeness in appearance, the two women were even so similar in poise and grace. Just now, despite the fact that Mary was wearing trousers, Franz still felt an impression that earlier she had been gracefully moving in formal attire. Marla could move with sufficient poise at times that one would ignore the jeans and sweater that she might be wearing. Both women had a smile that could light a room and serve as a beacon of warmth. Right now Mrs. Simpson's smile was focused on him.

"So, since you're here, Franz, I assume that the piano made the trip safely?"

"Yes, Frau Simpson…"

"Call me Mary, please."

"Mary," Franz smiled a little, recalling his comparison of Mary and Marla, and how frequently he had heard another voice saying, "Call me Marla." Recollecting the question he had been asked, he continued, "Yes, the piano arrived safely. Even in her pain, Marla would not move from the docks until she saw it taken from the barge and loaded safely on a wagon."

"Good." Mary nodded. "I really wanted it to unload at the naval docks, but I couldn't get John to agree." Franz realized she was referring to her husband, John Simpson, admiral of the USE Navy. "He said that things were too tightly scheduled right now for him to spare that much time at one of their docks." She frowned a little, then shrugged. "He did agree that he would send one of his men to the civilian docks to oversee the unloading there and make sure that everything went well."

"There was a Navy man at the dock, and he did indeed watch all the unloading," Franz said. "But everyone on the dock, including the Navy man, was watching another man out of the corners of their eyes. I do not know him. He did nothing but stand there in the rain, hands in pockets, and watch the unloading. He was not dressed well, but all the dockmen and bargemen acted as if he was an angel of the Lord. They walked wide circles around him, would not face him, and they worked at the unloading like men possessed. The crate was off its barge and on the wagon almost before we could climb up the gangplank from our barge to the dock. He did not introduce himself the whole time, even when the Navy man was telling the wagon driver where to take the crate and me how to find your house."

"That must have been Gunther," Mary replied. In response to Franz's raised eyebrow she continued, "Gunther Achterhof, the head of the local Committee of Correspondence."

Now both of Franz's eyebrows climbed to meet his hairline, and he gave a low whistle. Gunther Achterhof was building a reputation among the Committees of Correspondence. If Gretchen Higgins was the Moses of the CoC and Spartacus was Aaron the spokesman, then Gunther was reputed to be another Caleb, the fierce old man who at the age of eighty had told Joshua, "Give me the mountain with the wildest tribes to conquer," and then had gone out and done it. Remembering the stony face he had seen at the dock, Franz had no trouble believing everything he had heard about him.

"Oh, yes," Mary smiled slightly, "right now John and I are in very good favor with the Committees, partly because of the Navy and partly because of some other things."

Franz knew she referred to the events of the previous two weeks, where Magdeburg-indeed, much of northern Germany-seethed on the edge of open rebellion after the Battle of Wismar and the revelation of the self-sacrifice of Hans Richter. The actions of Admiral and Mrs. Simpson had been part of the lid that had kept that particular political pot from boiling over.

"Right now, anything that either of us finds important," Mary continued, "the Committees take an interest in. I imagine Hilde, our housekeeper, told him about the piano." In response to Franz's quizzical expression, she laughed a little. "Oh, yes, Hilde keeps them informed. I don't mind. John doesn't bring anything secret home from work, and since they have appointed themselves to see to our security, better that they get their information straight from the house rather than from rumors or from having to guess." She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward a little. "Now, tell me how the trip went. The last word I had was from a week ago, where Marla said she had the Steinway-which was great news-and that she would be coming by barge and would be arriving sometime around now."

Hilde had appeared with a tray carrying a coffee service while Mary was speaking. She poured two large cups of coffee as Mary finished and handed them to Franz and her mistress. She then took the wet coats from the hooks near the door and carried them away; to the kitchen Franz supposed, where they would be hopefully dried and warmed. Franz cradled the cup in his hands for a long moment, soaking up the warmth, especially in his crippled left hand, which was still aching from the cold. Finally, he took a sip and let it seep down his throat.

"Aaah."

Mary smiled over the rim of her own cup. "Yes, when you're cold and wet, a big cup of coffee is a good thing to have."

Franz nodded agreement, took another long sip, then leaned back in his chair again. He briefly recounted everything that had occurred in requisitioning the piano and preparing it for shipment. Taking another sip of coffee, he continued with, "We unmoored and pushed away somewhat before noon, and the rain began not long afterward. The bargemen put up a canvas shelter in the middle of the barge where we were able to sit and stay mostly dry. Marla, however, constantly fretted over the piano, so she spent most of her time up near the bow, watching the other barge like a mother whose only child is marching off to battle. From time to time I would bring her back to the shelter, but before long she would be back up leaning on the bow rail, watching her beloved piano. She spent most of the trip there, even at night."

"So how long did the trip take?"

"Three days from the time the barges pushed away from their moorings near Grantville to the time we touched the dock here in Magdeburg," Franz replied. "The barge masters had their crews poling during the first few hours. Gerd Eugenson, the master on our barge, told me that they wanted to get along as fast as they could while the rain was keeping the water high. He warned me that if either barge ran aground on a shallow bottom we would all have to get in the water and help pull it free. God be praised that was not required.

"Once we reached a place where the river was wider and deeper, they stowed the poles and we floated with the current. We only pulled to shore one morning when fog arose, as the barge masters were concerned about running into objects they could not see. The rest of the time we floated, even at night. They would light lanterns and hang them on the prow and stern, and keep a lookout ahead. When I asked why, Master Gerd laughed and said that they were being paid by the trip, not the number of days.

"We arrived at Magdeburg at last, and made our way past the activity of the Navy yard to the comparative quiet of the city docks, where we moored fast and unloaded. And so, we are here, safe and sound."

"And when did Marla start having trouble?" Mary asked.

"Yesterday," Franz answered. "She is, as you are no doubt aware, somewhat strong-willed." He chuckled. "And as I said, would not stay in the shelter. She kept going out on the prow in the rain, so she was cold and wet all the time. By this morning she was as you saw her when we arrived."

"I should have known you'd be talking about me," another voice said, and Franz's head whipped around to see Marla standing in the doorway at the back of the room, dressed in a thick robe and with a large shawl wrapped around her.

In the next moment, he was at her side and guiding her to a chair near the stove. "You should be resting," he scolded, worry in his eyes.

"I'm fine, Franz," she said, a little of her normal fire returning to her face and voice. "Once I got dry and started to get warm, I began to feel better."

"Are you sure?"

"Franz…" with a warning tone.

Marla's face was still somewhat drawn, but the color was returning, and she was smiling. A knot of worry in Franz's mind released, and he sighed in response. "All right, if you insist. But you are not going outside again today, maybe not tomorrow."

"I promise," she said. "But…"

"But what?"

"I want to know about the Steinway."

"Marla…" with exasperation.

"Franz…" sweetly.

He gazed into her eyes, and sighed. "All right, if I go and bring word to you, will you stay here?"

"Yes."

"Promise?"

She raised a hand to his face. "I promise." He captured her hand and brought it around to kiss the fingertips.

"Then I will go forth and return with word of your precious Steinway." Franz straightened, then looked down at her with a grin. "You know, if that piano was a man, I would be very jealous."

"You!" She slapped his leg. "Get, and find out what's happening with my piano!"

"As you command," he intoned. Hilde appeared with his coat, which, if not totally dry, was at least dryer than it had been, and considerably warmer to boot.

"By your leave, Frau Simpson," he said with a slight bow.

"Go, Franz." She laughed. "She won't rest until you do."

He stepped to the door, raised a hand in farewell, and was gone.

Franz closed the door behind him and turned to face the street. Immediately he noticed that the rain had almost stopped. Casting a quizzical eye to the sky, he muttered, "You could have answered my prayer to stop the rain a little earlier than this, and spared Marla." He looked back at the street, and started down the steps. "I know, I know, 'The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the Name of the Lord.' "

When he reached the bottom, he turned and began walking toward the docks. At the end of the row of houses, he stopped a merchant's apprentice hurrying by and asked for directions to the Weaver's Guildhall. Slipping and sliding through the mud, he dodged wagons, horses and other people and finally arrived at the guildhall without injury. The wagon that had been hired to carry the piano from the docks to the hall was still waiting in front of it.

Like the rest of Magdeburg, the building had been built anew after the fires from Tilly's sack had destroyed the original hall. It was a rather large structure that had much of the raw look of the newer construction, but he could see where some friezes and a few small statues had been added to the original plain exterior. The weavers were a wealthy guild, and no doubt would continue to ornament their hall until it reflected what they felt to be their position in Magdeburg's society.

Franz walked up the main steps to the portico, paused at the top to scrape his boots on the tool provided for that purpose, then faced a pair of large but plain doors. No doubt the guild would have them replaced with ornately carved panels at their earliest convenience. He passed through them and entered a foyer of sorts: a couple of offices on each side, then a cross hallway, and on the other side a large pair of doors flanked by stairways. The guild had already spent some money here, for these doors had glass panes in them.

One of the office doors was open, so Franz stuck his head in the doorway. He spied a clerk hard at work at a ledger book. "Where is the ballroom?"

The clerk didn't even look up, just jabbed with the quill in his hand toward his left. "Through the glass doors." Dipping his quill in his ink, he continued his hasty scribbling.

The first thing Franz noticed as he opened the doors was Friedrich Braun's voice. "No, you idiot! Do not start lifting until I tell you to!"

Franz entered the room at the far end from where Friedrich was rolling out from under the piano to glare at someone Franz didn't know. Several of the men standing around the piano looked around as he approached. He saw Hermann Katzberg, Isaac Fremdling and Josef and Rupert Tuchman standing together, watching as Friedrich worked at uncrating the piano. Several Magdeburg locals, obviously drafted to provide muscle power, were grouped together on the other side of the piano. It was one of them that Friedrich was glaring at. The man started to bristle, but something caught his attention, and he paled and backed away to mingle with his companions. Franz followed his eyes, to see Gunther Achterhof leaning against the side wall and directing a very piercing gaze at the offender.

Franz's footsteps sounded in the suddenly quiet room, and Friedrich turned to spy him. "Franz! How is Marla?" All of his friends looked at him with concern written on their faces, expressions which lightened as they saw the smile on his own face.

"She is feeling better," he responded as he joined their rank. "Getting her inside where she could be warm and dry has made much difference. In a day or two, we will have her amongst us again, belaboring us with directions and criticisms, and assuring us that we will grow used to the dissonance."

They all laughed in relief as Franz squatted to bring himself down to Friedrich's level. "So what happens here, oh greatest of all journeymen?"

"Have a care how you speak to one who holds tools in his hands," Friedrich retorted, "lest you find them applied to your skull instead of this crate." He rolled back under the piano. "As you can see, the bottom of the shipping crate is resting on trestles. Master Ingram, who is indeed worthy of that accolade, designed the crate in such a manner that while it rests on the trestles, we can remove part of the bottom and reattach the legs and pedals to the piano. Thus we do not have to tilt it onto its side, nor have many men attempt to hold it in the air whilst I scurry around like a beetle underneath it, striving to attach the legs before it is dropped upon me. That is, if a certain lackwit can be restrained from attempting to lift one side of it until I am finished!" Friedrich's voice at that moment dripped acid. The man he referred to shuffled his feet and moved to the rear of the group of locals.

"So the liberating of the Steinway from its crate proceeds well, then?" Franz asked lightly.

"Aye, well indeed, thanks to the artifice of those unknown craftsmen who made the Steinway. 'Tis a miracle of design, Franz. So spare in features, so well crafted, so few tools needed to disassemble and reassemble it. There is an elegance in their work that I despair of ever attaining. And in its own way, Master Ingram's design of the crate is almost as elegant, allowing the piano to be enveloped by the crate's assembly around it, rather than forcing the instrument to be jostled around and eventually placed inside the crate. Much less risk of damage in his way. There!" he exclaimed, rolling out from under the piano again.

Climbing to his feet, Friedrich said, "All right, you lot, space yourselves around the piano, but leave the curved side open for the moment." He waited for the locals and Isaac, Johann and Rupert to take their places. "Do not grasp the packing crate, but the bottom of the instrument itself. Take a good grasp, so that the blanket wrapping it does not slip in your hands. And do not lift until I say the word!" with an indiscriminate glare for everyone involved. "Franz, Hermann, when we lift, gently pull the trestles and the remaining portion of the crate from under the piano. I remind you all, if anyone mars the beauty of this creation, he will answer to Mistress Marla, and I would not be in his shoes for all the silver in Amsterdam." Franz took his coat off and tossed it to the floor some distance away.

Friedrich took his place at the keyboard end between two of the locals, took his grip and looked around at them all. "Lift!" The piano elevated, and Hermann dove under it to support the bottom of the case and guide it as Franz carefully pulled the first trestle from under the small end of the piano. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably no more than a very few of the up-timers' minutes, it was accomplished.

Hermann came out from under the instrument with a sour look on his face. Guessing that the expression came from his being apparently relegated to the easy work because of his short stature, Franz caught his eye and held up his damaged left hand, not saying a word. It took a moment for Hermann to catch his meaning, but catch it he did, and he acknowledged it with a nod and a wry twist of his mouth. As much as they might wish otherwise, Franz thought, they both had to acknowledge their limitations.

Friedrich handed a purse to Isaac, asking him to pay the locals, then rolled back under the piano. Franz heard Friedrich muttering, so he squatted again. "Now what occurs, oh wonder in the firmaments of craftsmanship?"

"What occurs is that a certain flap-tongued sawyer of strings is treading the steps of a dangerous dance, and may well find himself dancing with the devil if he continues." Friedrich muttered again, and this time Franz caught a mention of matter that was typically shoveled out of stable stalls.

Given that his friend normally took seriously the scriptural instruction to avoid vulgarity, Franz therefore knew that he was indeed frustrated about something underneath the Steinway. "Is there aught I can do?" he asked in a sober tone.

"Nay. The blanket that enwraps the piano is laced together underneath," Friedrich's voice sounded strained. "The knots will not release their hold."

"And who tied these knots?"

Silence, for a moment, then a surly, "I did."

Franz looked up at his other friends, to see grins that matched his own.

"Aha!" came from under the piano, and they could hear the sound of cords being drawn through holes, evidence that the knots had finally given way. In a few moments, Friedrich rolled out from underneath with two fists full of cords. The blanket edges now hung down straight from the sides of the piano. Friedrich pulled the blanket off, then opened the lid and took out the blanket that had been padding the props and the edge of the opening. Propping the lid open, he then unlocked the keyboard cover and removed the padding that had been inserted underneath it. "Hermann," he said, pulling over the bench that had been set to one side, "you are the best of us at this in Marla's absence. Play, so that we can hear if it has suffered some hidden injury."

Hermann sat down and began to play something contrapuntal, something Franz knew he had heard before. After a moment, he recognized it as one of the Three-Part Inventions by J. S. Bach, one of the pieces that Marla had used early in their discussions about the future of music to demonstrate the final glories of the contrapuntal style of composition. Hermann played it well. After he brought the work to its conclusion, he looked at Friedrich, then at Franz, saying, "To my ear, it rings true."

"To me as well." Friedrich nodded. "Marla will probably want to tune it, but I think it has survived its travels without injury."

"Good," Franz replied, picking up his coat and shrugging it on. "That is the word that Marla sent me to obtain. Now I can take that to her, and she will at last be at her ease." His fingers busy with buttons, he asked, "Where are we sleeping tonight? Have you found word of an inn where we can stay until we can find rooms?"

Before anyone could respond, Gunther Achterhof pushed off from the wall where he had been leaning, forgotten all this time. The friends turned to face him, and Franz forced himself to not step back from the man's presence. "No need for an inn," the CoC leader said. "Mistress Linder will be staying with Admiral and Frau Simpson, and rooms for all of you have been provided by Mr. Wilhelm Wettin."

Franz knew that name, but it took him a moment to remember why he knew it. Then his eyes opened wide-the former duke of Saxe-Weimar! That was who was providing them accommodations! He glanced around, and the others were as stunned as he was. From the slight smile on Gunther's face, he found their reactions humorous.

"Umm," Franz hemmed, "are you certain?"

"Oh, yes," Gunther replied, still smiling that slight smile, "the former duke of Saxe-Weimar, now the commoner Wilhelm Wettin, has offered to 'put you up,' as the Americans say. I think it would be rude to refuse." They all assured him they were in agreement with him. "And besides, your bags have already been delivered there," Gunther concluded, which left them with nothing at all to say.

"Good. Now, Herr Sylwester, let me walk with you back to Admiral Simpson's house." And with that, Franz found himself waving goodbye to his friends as Gunther urged him out the door.

He looked over at the Committee man's face as they walked down the street, wondering what Gunther's desire to walk with him foreboded. Gunther caught him at it and smiled his slight smile again. "Do not worry, Herr Sylwester. I simply wanted a little privacy to tell you something."

"Tell me something?" Franz almost stuttered.

"Yes." The smile disappeared. "We will be watching over you."

"Over us?" Franz knew he sounded stupid, but he was almost struck dumb over the notion of the Committees of Correspondence keeping watch on Marla and himself.

"Yes. Magdeburg is not as… civilized… as Grantville. You will be protected, much as we protect the admiral and his lady."

Moments of silence as they walked along, then, "Why?" from Franz.

"Partly because Fraulein Linder is American, and you are hers; partly because she is here under the wing of the admiral's lady; and partly because of who she is." Gunther paced quietly for several steps. "I heard her sing once, at the Gardens. Almost I forgot who I was." More silent steps, then, "Will she sing for us here?" There was a tone in his voice, one that Franz could not recognize, but something more than the usual gruffness.

"I cannot speak for her, but it would not surprise me," Franz responded.

"Good."

They stopped at an intersection of streets, where Gunther clapped Franz on his shoulder, staggering him slightly. "The admiral's street is the second corner after this one. You should make it with no problems from here. And remember, we are watching. If you need anything, just look around. You will find us." Whistling tunelessly between his teeth, he turned up the cross street. Franz stared after him.

Marla reached up and undid her ponytail holder as the door closed behind Franz, allowing her coal black hair to settle around her shoulders and flow down her back. She leaned back in the embrace of the chair, resting her head against the upholstery.

"So how do you really feel, Marla?" she heard Mary ask.

Opening her eyes, she said, "I think I've felt worse than this in my life, but I can't really remember when." She raised her head with a tired smile, receiving a smile in return.

"Probably a combination of stress and being thoroughly chilled," Mary said.

"Is there any coffee left in that pot, Mrs. Simpson?" She leaned her head back against the chair again.

"Call me Mary, dear. There's not much here, and it's cool. Let me have Hilde bring some more." The maid must have been within earshot. Marla never heard a summons, but in a moment she heard footsteps crossing from the door to the nearby table and back again.

Mary cleared her throat. "So, you're here, the piano is here, and Franz is here. Tell me who else came with you."

"Hermann Katzberg, Josef and Rudolf Tuchman, and Isaac Fremdling are the musicians. Hermann is an absolute wizard at harpsichord and organ, and does well with a Baroque flute. Josef plays viola d'amore, and his brother Rudolf plays Baroque flute and has a good baritone voice. Isaac is a really good violinist in the German style, and has a tenor voice that would have earned him rock god status if he'd been born in the twentieth century.

"Friedrich Braun came with us to see to the unpacking and setting up of the piano, but he'll be returning to Grantville as soon as possible. He has responsibilities in the Bledsoe and Riebeck shop."

Mary looked over the rim of her cup, assessing the young woman seated across from her. Her face was drawn, with dark shadows under her eyes; her shoulders slumped slightly from exhaustion. Nonetheless, her voice was strong, her tone was calm, and she seemed composed. Either she was one of those people who bounced back from injury quickly, or she was one who worked through her pain. Either way, Mary liked what she had seen of her so far.

"And where does Franz fit into this gallery of musicians?" she asked. She had her guesses, but she wanted to hear what Marla said.

A small, dreamy smile appeared on Marla's face for a moment, then she took another sip of coffee before responding. "Musically, Franz is a work of salvage at the moment. His left hand was crushed by a rival violinist who was jealous of his skill."

Mary flinched a little. "That almost sounds like something out of the Pittsburgh docks and the mob."

"Oh, yes," Marla said. "That was my first thought also. However, you know as well as anyone that musicians, like actors, are typically passionate people. Sometimes that passion takes a wrong turn. Anyway, Dr. Nichols wasn't able to offer any hope of surgical repair, but with some therapy Franz has regained enough use to hold an Italian style bow with his left hand. He's now in the process of learning to play again, only with reversed hands: the right doing the fingering and the left the bowing. He's frustrated at this stage… he knows what to do, but the muscles are still in early training and don't just automatically do what he wants them to do. But Isaac says that Franz was the best player in Mainz before the attack, and that he should regain that same level in short order."

"And personally?"

"Personally…" Marla drew the word out. "He's a passionate soul, with an incredible gentleness. He has very high standards for himself. And…" another long, drawn-out word, then a rush to "I love him."

"A love he obviously returns." Mary chuckled, recalling the scene when Marla sent him out to find out what had happened with her precious piano. "So, if it's not prying, do you intend to marry?"

"Franz won't hear of it until he can play in public again. He says he will not ask me until he can prove he can support us."

"I take it he's somewhat strong-willed?"

Marla burst out laughing. It took a moment for her to regain her composure. "That would be somewhat like calling water wet," she at length replied. "It's probably a good thing, too, as more than one of my friends have hinted that I'm a bit that way myself."

Mary smiled. "Actually, Franz did say much the same about you."

Marla laughed again. "I've always suspected it would take a strong will to both stand up to me and put up with me. Franz is the first man, up-time or down, that has managed to do that and interested me at the same time. My Aunt Susan says I'm obsessed at times. That's probably true, but it's usually about something musical, which as far as I'm concerned is worth being obsessed about."

The two women shared a look of understanding. Obsession about music was indeed a mindset they both understood very well. It boded well for their relationship.

Franz again knocked on the door to the Simpsons' house. He was a little taken aback when it was opened by Mrs. Simpson herself.

"Come in, Franz, come in. We've been having a lovely talk while we waited for you."

"Um, thank you." He stepped in, took his coat off and hung it on the same peg he had hung it on when he had first entered the house.

"Well?" Marla asked impatiently from her seat. He was encouraged to see even more color in her face than had been there when he left. "What's the verdict on the Steinway?"

He crossed over to her, bent down and kissed the top of her head. "The piano has been totally uncrated and reassembled in the Weaver's Guild hall. Friedrich has examined it with great care, and both he and Hermann are of the opinion that it has suffered no harm from its journeys. So, you may rest your mind about it, and therefore rest your body as well."

Marla sighed, and Franz watched as a certain tension drained out of her, leaving her almost limp in the embrace of the chair. Her blue eyes peered up at him through the curtain of her bangs, followed by one of those smiles that reminded him of just why he loved her. "Okay. I've had a nice long chat with Mary, but I think I'm ready to go to bed now. Help me up."

He reached down to take one arm just as Hilde the maid appeared at the other side of the chair; between them they raised Marla to her feet. He walked with them to the door that led to the stairway. Marla gave him a quick kiss, then started up the narrow stairs with Hilde supporting her.

"An unusual young woman," Franz heard from behind. He turned to face Mrs. Simpson.

"I believe that is what my friend Ingram would call an understatement," he said soberly.

Mary smiled. "No doubt."

"Frau Simpson…"

"Mary," she interjected.

"Mary, then… I thank you for arranging a place for my friends and me to stay, but I must tell you that a simple inn would have been more appropriate than the… Wettin household."

"Oh, that. Actually, my original plan was to rent some rooms in an inn, but Eleonore volunteered… insisted, actually. She said that now that she was a commoner, she wanted to meet some of these interesting people that before now would hardly open their mouths in her presence."

Franz was surprised into a laugh. "She may get her wish, then. Hermann will talk to anyone, and is almost impossible to stop once he begins."

"Good. I would so hate for her to be disappointed." Mary's impish smile surprised Franz.

Saturday, October 16, 1633

The next day dawned with clear skies. The rain had stopped in the middle of the night, and the clouds had dissipated. Franz stepped out into the street with his friends, smiling at Hermann's last joke with the maid who closed the door of the Wettin house behind them.

"Right," Isaac said. "What do we do today?" They all looked at Franz.

"You go to the guild hall. I will go to the Simpsons' and look in on Marla, then join you."

They walked together past several houses, then separated to go their ways. Franz continued alone down the busy streets until he arrived at the Simpsons' house. After Gunther's revelation yesterday, Franz looked at the surroundings with new eyes, finding what Gunther had assured him would be there: two young men, hard-edged and hard-eyed, standing together under a streetlight across the street from the admiral's house. He swallowed nervously as he approached, but nodded to them and said "Good morning." They said nothing, but did nod in return.

Feeling somewhat encouraged, he crossed the street and knocked on the Simpsons' door. Hilde opened it with a smile. "Welcome." She stepped back to allow him to enter, then took his coat.

"Good morning, Franz," he heard behind him. Mrs. Simpson and Marla were seated in the same chairs they had occupied when he left them yesterday. The only way he could tell that time had passed was that they were both wearing different clothing. Well, that and Marla looked normal again. Her eyes were smiling above her coffee cup as Mary reached for the pot to pour a cup for Franz. He took a seat as Mary handed the cup across to him.

"What's on the agenda today?" Mary asked.

Before Franz could respond, Marla said, "Practice at the Weavers' guild hall."

"Just a moment!" Franz interjected, not believing what he was hearing. "I do not believe that is a good idea, not after the way you felt yesterday, and the day before."

Marla carefully set her cup down on the table, clasped her hands together, and stared into Franz's frowning eyes. In a very calm tone of voice, she said, "I feel better than I have since we started the trip. It's not raining. I will bundle up and stay warm and dry. I will not push my limits. But I am going to the guild hall. The piano must be tuned, and I've got to check out the acoustics of the hall. Unless you plan on tying me to this chair, I am going." Her expressionless face told Franz that if he did, he would regret it.

Franz was astute enough to recognize a battle he could not win, so he gave in to the inevitable. "Mrs. Simpson… Mary," forestalling her correction, "would it be possible…"

Mary smiled as she said, "I've already arranged for a ride." Both women laughed at Franz's rueful expression. Franz muttered… under his breath, he thought.

"What was that?" Marla asked.

"Nothing."

"Franz…" with a rising tone of warning.

"I said, I feel conspired against."

Mary chuckled. "Poor man." Sobering, she continued, "She'll be fine, Franz. I would not willingly risk her, any more than you would."

And with that he had to be content.

Franz looked around as his foot touched the ground, seeking that which would previously have gone unnoticed. There, across the street, two more young men in the mold of those who waited outside the admiral's house. He turned to help the ladies down: first Mrs. Simpson, then Marla. Even after only one day in her presence, he had not a problem with thinking of Mary Simpson as the Dame of Magdeburg. Her charm and grace were the equal of the rumors and legends beginning to circulate about her. Marla, in her own right, young though she was, bid fair to shape into the same kind of woman. Already, he could see one or two little ways where she had been influenced by Mary.

Together they proceeded up the steps. Franz held open the outer door, then led the way into the ballroom. The sound of the piano poured out as he opened those doors. Marla smiled and pushed past him, hungry for her "baby." Mary followed in a more sedate manner.

Hermann was playing another piece from Bach's Three Part Inventions-and doing a good job of it, Franz thought, given that he had only been working on it for two weeks prior to the move to Magdeburg. He looked up from the keyboard. "Marla!" His obvious surprise resulted in a delighted tone of voice.

"Hi, Hermann." Marla plopped down beside him on the piano bench. "How does it sound?"

"The piano sounds fine," Hermann enthused. "This is the first time I have been able to play this one. It is much better than the pianos we heard at the school."

"Now you understand why I want it here. Move over." Marla bumped his hip. Hermann not only moved over, he got up and let her have the entire bench. She set her hands on the keys, paused for that instant that Franz had learned to recognize as her moment of focus, then began a piece that he didn't recognize. It was not polyphonic, but the chords were harmonious to his ear, so he knew it had to be an "early" piece from Marla's repertoire.

All the others gathered around the piano as Marla played: Franz, Mary Simpson, Johann and Rudolf and Friedrich. The piece was not lengthy, and before long she brought it to a rousing conclusion. Her audience burst into applause. Franz could tell from the startled expression on her face when she looked up that Marla had, as usual, focused on the music to the exclusion of everything around her.

"That, my dear," Mary said, "was simply lovely. I don't believe I've heard a piano transcription of Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" before. Did you produce it yourself?"

"No." Marla flushed slightly at the praise. "I would have, or Thomas Schwarzberg would have done it for me, but the Grantville High School band department has a band transcription of it. The condensed conductor's score actually is nothing more than a piano transcription. I borrowed it from the band a couple of years ago, and learned it for fun. I haven't played it for a while, so I'm pretty rusty."

"You should include that in your recital programme," the older woman remarked. "It should be well received by those who attend."

"I intend to," Marla responded.

Mary started to say something else, then visibly collected herself as Marla began playing a pattern of scales, beginning at the low end of the keyboard and rolling to the high end, pausing for a moment, then commencing again on the next highest pitch at the low end. She repeated this several times, until she had played every key on the piano at least once, and most several times. Finally, she stopped and played several widely separated keys individually, obviously listening carefully.

"Friedrich," she called out. "Where's the tuning kit?"

Friedrich was already digging it out of his bag, and in a moment handed it to her. He slid the music stand out of the piano frame above the keyboard and set it on a chair to one side as she unrolled the kit on the bench. Then he opened the lid up to its maximum height, standing to one side to allow Marla full access to the interior of the instrument.

Franz watched with Mary Simpson as Marla reached inside the piano with the tuning wrench. "Okay, how much did Ingram show you about tuning pianos?" Marla asked.

"Master Ingram said that I had learned the theory well, that what I needed now was the practice," Friedrich responded.

"Okay, practice away. First thing, the d2 is flat."

Marla and the journeyman instrument crafter labored to restore the piano to perfect tuning. Mary beckoned Franz to follow her to the rear of the room, where she turned to face him. "I understand why you and Friedrich are here, but why did Marla bring the others?"

"Hermann is to accompany her when she sings," Franz said.

Mary grimaced. "Of course, I should have realized that. She can't very well accompany herself, not with the art music I've asked her to sing. That explains Hermann; what about the rest?"

"Isaac she wishes to do a duet with, although she has not yet decided what to sing with him."

"Hmm, I may have a suggestion or two there, depending on what music she has brought with her. And the others?"

"I do not know. It was a late decision, made just before we left. She said something about Maestro Carissimi possibly having something for them to perform."

Mary's eyes widened. "Carissimi? Giacomo Carissimi?"

"Yes, I believe that is his name."

"She knows him?"

"Yes. We all do. He arrived in Grantville from Italy several weeks ago, along with an instrument crafter named Giro… Girolamo Zenti, I believe. He has had several long conversations with Marla, and even sat in on one or two of our seminar discussions. He is working now with Frau Elizabeth Jordan to learn the new music styles, much as we worked with Marla this summer."

"Oh, my." Mary was silent for long moments, staring at the wall beyond his shoulder.

"Do you know him?"

Mary sighed. "Know him? No, I don't. I do, however, know of him. I think it just finally sank in to me in a way that it never had before that I really am in the seventeenth century; that I will have a chance to meet some of the people that I have loved from afar and whose works I have listened to with joy and appreciation. Oh, my." She took a deep breath, and turned to focus on Franz with glittering eyes. "Yes, indeed, if she has an opportunity to do something by Maestro Carissimi, we should make every effort to include it."

"You must ask Marla," Franz said. "I have told you what I know."

Mary nodded, a determined look on her face as she stared in Marla's direction. After a moment, she looked to Franz again. "Weren't there more people studying with you?"

"Yes; Thomas Schwarzberg and Leopold Gruenwald. They were left in Grantville by their own desires." Mary looked at him with a quizzical expression. Franz continued, "Thomas stayed to copy music. He can notate anything he can hear, so he stayed to notate everything that is recorded in the records, tapes and CDs. It may well prove to be his life's work. And Leopold, although not as adept as Thomas, is also good at notation, so he will assist Thomas when he is not working with Master Wendell to learn the designs of up-time wind instruments. He is a crafter of horns in his own right, much as Friedrich and Herren Bledsoe and Riebeck are of things that sing from wood."

"So, after Friedrich leaves, Marla will have the core of your group with her, those who have learned from her and will perform with her?"

Franz turned to look at the others: Friedrich, who had his head inside the piano alongside Marla's as she explained something technical to him; Josef and Rudolf who waited patiently to one side, their fingers silently running patterns on their instruments; and Hermann, who was fidgeting in his chair-which was as patient as he knew how to wait-all of them somehow bound to Marla. He looked back at Mrs. Simpson. "Yes. These men will be with Marla forever. They have committed to her, to follow her lead, to be her hands and voices in this lifetime."

"And you, Franz," Mary asked, "what will you be to her?"

He looked down at Mary, who waited expectantly, then looked out at the sun and moon of his life where she laughed at something Friedrich said. "I will be her heart."

Wednesday, October 19, 1633

Franz threw the door to the tavern open and they all trooped in, exclaiming at how good it felt to be out of the weather. The wind was from the north that evening, and as dark closed in it felt as if it had blown straight down from the Swedish mountains, it was so frigid. Everyone but Franz had instrument cases tucked up under their arms as they blew on their fingers to try to warm them. His crippled left hand was aching savagely. He tucked it inside his coat under his arm to warm it as quickly as possible.

"Come on, guys," Marla said, eyes sparkling and cheeks reddened by the cold, "the host is waving us to the table by the stove." They made their way through the throng, Josef and Rudolf leading the way and parting the mass of people, followed by Marla and Franz, with Hermann and Isaac bringing up the rear. They all sat down on the benches and carefully set their instruments on the table.

"What will you have?" the barmaid near shouted to be heard over the roar of conversation.

"Coffee!" was the unanimous voice from every throat. She bobbed her head and scurried off to the kitchen, to return shortly with five cheap ceramic mugs and a large ceramic pot which she set on the table.

"Compliments of the master," she said, "to keep your throats wet tonight. He says whenever you are ready, begin. This lot will quiet down quickly enough." With another bob of her head, she dashed off to grab a circle of empty flagons being held up by a table whose occupants were loudly demanding beer.

The largesse was perhaps no great surprise, as the keeper of The Green Horse tavern had been delighted to find that players who had played in the famed Thuringen Gardens were in town. He had sought Franz out and asked if they would play in his humble establishment. When Franz polled the others, they were all ready for some fun, so they agreed to play one night in his tavern, on the condition that whatever funds were thrown their way by the patrons were theirs. The alacrity with which he agreed made it clear that he expected to make more than enough from the beer and wine and coffee that he would sell to those who came to hear them.

Franz grabbed for the pot as soon as their mugs were filled, letting the heat soak into his chilled and hurting hands. The blissful heat drove the ache from his fingers; as it did so, he mused on how the people who were touched by the Americans all adopted many of the American practices. Surprisingly-or perhaps not so surprisingly-the thing that everyone took up was the drinking of coffee. The Abrabanels were making a large fortune by importing it from Turkey.

He focused on the present again as Marla unloosened her scarf and unbuttoned her coat, took a big swig of the oh-so-popular coffee, then opened her flute case and began assembling the instrument. "Man!" she exclaimed. I forgot just how cold this thing can get." She began blowing into the open end, forcing air through it to warm it up.

Franz watched Marla closely. She was in high spirits tonight, with no evidence of the exhaustion, stress and pain that had drawn her down only days before. He worried, nonetheless, despite the assurances of both Marla and Mrs. Simpson that she was fine. It was foolish to do so, he knew, but nonetheless he did worry.

They spent several minutes warming their instruments: Rudolf rolling his baroque flute in his hands, letting the warmth of his flesh warm the wood before he blew into it; Isaac and Josef doing much the same thing as they ran their hands over the violin and viola d'amore. Hermann took the longest, holding the harp he had received from Ingram Bledsoe near the stove, then drawing it to himself to run his hands over the wood, then repeating the process until he was satisfied that it was warm. Finally, he ran his hands up and down the strings, then began the tuning process. Once he was satisfied, he looked over at the others, plucking a tone so they could tune to him.

Marla looked at them all and raised her eyebrows. "What will it be, boys?"

They looked at each other, then to Franz, who over the weeks had been proven to have the best skill for reading a crowd. He shrugged, then replied, "Brian Boru's March."

"Right," Marla smiled. She stood, and Josef, Rudolf and Isaac stood with her. Hermann stood long enough to shift a chair around to the center of their line to face the patrons. Franz moved the coffee pot to the top of the stove. No sense in letting it get cold while they performed.

Raising her flute to her lips, Marla counted, "One, two, ready, go!"

The strains of the music readily penetrated the fog of conversation, which died away almost immediately. The boisterous song soon had everyone in the tavern tapping the table or clapping their hands. Franz looked around, and no one was talking, no one was drinking; everyone, even the host and the barmaid, was caught up in the music.

The sound of the music triggered Franz's memory, taking him back to the day in early July when Marla had unveiled to their circle her mother's prized collection of Irish folk music, a mixture of old LPs and newer CDs with mostly Chieftains and Clancy Brothers albums. The down-timers had all fallen for the infectious melodies, rhythms and harmonies of the songs. Within a quarter hour they had all brought out their instruments and started trying to play along. They were all skilled at learning music from the hearing of it, so it hadn't taken them long to learn many of their favorites. Within a few weeks they were actually performing one night a week at the Thuringen Gardens, with Marla doing most of the singing and Isaac and Rudolf sometimes joining in. They would occasionally change a few of the words to fit them to Germany, but all in all the songs they sang adjusted well, and of course the instrumental music needed no translation. Whether they played the fast moving dances or the slow ballads, the music all seemed to strike a chord in their listeners; tonight appeared to be no exception.

They wrapped up the march with a flourish and the tavern rocked with applause. The players all grinned at each other as they sucked in air. Judging the mood of the crowd, Franz stepped up to the players and took Marla's flute. They all leaned in for his word. "Do 'Nell Flaherty's Drake' next." They nodded in response; he stepped back, giving them the downbeat. Isaac and Rudolf gave Marla an introduction with violin and flute, fast and bouncy like the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem version they had learned it from, and then she came in with the verse.

Oh, me name it is Nell, and the truth for to tell

I come from Cootehill which I'll never deny.

I had a fine drake and I'd die for his sake

That me grandmother left me, and she goin' to die.

The dear little fellow, his legs they were yellow.

He could fly like a swallow or swim like a hake,

'Til some dirty savage to grease his white cabbage

Most wantonly murdered me beautiful drake.

Now his neck it was green, almost fit to be seen.

He was fit for a queen of the highest degree.

His body was white, and it would you delight.

He was plump, fat, and heavy and brisk as a bee.

He was wholesome and sound, he would weigh twenty pound,

And the universe round I would roam for his sake.

Bad luck to the robber, be he drunk or sober,

That murdered Nell Flaherty's beautiful drake.

Franz stood to one side near the stove, foot tapping to the beat of the rollicking song. He was as caught up in the music as the performers, and without conscious thought his hands were at waist level, directing the performance. He had seen Marcus Wendell direct the Grantville High School Band; he had seen various choir directors in Grantville leading their groups; during their seminar he had seen videos of men that Marla called great directors using their gifts to lift orchestras to unbelievable heights of artistry. Unbeknownst, unacknowledged, unperceived, the desire to be one like them-one who would gather the strands of single musicians and weave them into a unique tapestry-that desire was growing in him, and at unguarded moments his hands would make in miniature the movements he would make if he were a leader, not someone standing in the shadows.

Marla began the third verse, and smiles began appearing all over the common room as the tavern patrons began hearing the inventive curses of the robbed and deprived Nell.

May his spade never dig, may his sow never pig,

May each hair in his wig be well trashed with the flail.

May his door never latch, may his roof have no thatch,

May his chickens not hatch, may the rats eat his meal.

May every old fairy from Cork to Dun Laoghaire

Dip him snug and airy in river or lake,

That the eel and the trout they may dine on the snout

Of the monster that murdered Nell Flaherty's drake.

The smiles around the room had become chuckles.

May his pig never grunt, may his cat never hunt,

May a ghost ever haunt him the dead of the night.

May his hens never lay, may his horse never neigh,

May his coat fly away like an old paper kite

That the flies and the fleas may the wretch ever tease.

May the piercin' March breeze make him shiver and shake.

May a lump of the stick raise the bumps fast and quick

On the monster that murdered Nell Flaherty's drake.

Franz could see Marla grinning as she sang, obviously enjoying how all the chuckles as quickly became guffaws. She glanced his way and winked, to which he smiled in reply. Her glance bounced back to the players; she nodded to them to bring it all together for the last verse.

Well, the only good news that I have to infuse

Is that old Paddy Hughes and young Anthony Blake,

Also Johnny Dwyer and Corney Maguire,

They each have a grandson of my darlin' drake.

Me treasure had dozens of nephews and cousins

And one I must get or me heart it will break,

For to set me mind easy or else I'll run crazy.

So ends the whole song of Nell Flaherty's drake.

The previous applause was now seen to be just a foretaste of what the evening held, as the patrons now produced a volume of sound that had to be heard to be believed; cheers, yells, foot stomping and whistling to the point that the walls seemed to bulge and dislodged dust was floating down from the rafters. Marla dropped a mock curtsy, then flung her arms wide and took a bow, echoed by the rest of the players.

The noise abated a little when Marla beckoned Franz forward, and they all huddled together, eyes gleaming and breath coming hard but all of them quivering like a team of horses ready to run a race. "Now what?" Marla demanded of Franz.

He thought for a moment. "Do the fast version of 'Jug of Punch.' You sing it. Then let Rudolf sing 'Long Black Veil.' End with Isaac singing 'Rising of the Moon.' " Marla gathered the eyes of the players, and they all nodded as one. Franz gave them the count, stepping back as the music broke out again.

The three songs were performed in turn, with loud applause sounding after each. Finally, the players begged off, telling the crowd they needed a rest. Franz topped off the coffee mugs, and took the empty pot to the bar to ask for more. He had to push his way through the crowd that had gathered around Marla, then wend his way between the tables to reach the bar. He set the pot down, realizing as he did so that Gunther Achterhof was standing next to him. He started to say something, but was interrupted by sounds from the other end of the room.

Gunther straightened from his slouch against the bar as Franz Sylwester approached him. He gave him a slight nod in recognition. Franz seemed about to speak, when there was a sudden Smack! of hand meeting flesh, followed by a man's shout suddenly choked off. He spun to rake the room with a glance, immediately noting people pushing away from where Marla Linder stood facing an unkempt man. Grabbing Klaus, one of his confederates, by the arm, they plowed their way through the room, sending people reeling and tables and benches flying. Those who started to object took one look at him and hurriedly backed away. He could hear Franz following in their wake.

He noted as they neared the confrontation that Fraulein Linder had one hand at the man's throat, and that the man was standing stock-still, even rigid. Marla released her hold as soon as he and Klaus grabbed the man's arms, and the man immediately began choking and gasping, trying to grab his throat with the hands that Gunther and the other CoC man were restraining.

Marla grabbed his hair and tilted his head up, bringing his wide-eyed, fearful gaze to meet her narrowed, ice-cold blue eyes. Gunther could see the mark on his face where she had slapped him. "No one paws me," Marla hissed from a distance of inches. "Get out of my sight, and you'd better not ever let me see you again, or I'll shred you." Even to one as hardened as Gunther, her voice held unnerving menace.

Gunther released the arm that he held to another CoC man who arrived at that moment, just in time to grab Franz and prevent him from assaulting the slumping man, who by now was wheezing as he breathed. Marla stepped back, and a greasy smudge on the breast of her bright yellow sweater made it very clear what had happened. Gunther jerked his head at his fellows, and they hustled the man out the back door of the tavern. By main force he dragged Franz around to look him in the eye. "Tend to Fraulein Linder," he grated. "This one is mine." He dropped his hand from Franz's arm, but Marla placed a shaking hand on his chest as he started to follow out the back door.

"I know you," she said in a tone that, despite the tremor of her hand, was remarkably firm. "I remember seeing you in Grantville. Don't kill him." Her voice was so matter-of-fact that Gunther was slightly shocked. He stared at her, and she bore that gaze. Finally, he nodded. "Or maim him," she added. Angered, he started to move past her, only to have her step into his path and continue to steadily look into his eyes. Once again she bore his hot gaze, and once again he finally nodded.

Marla stepped out of his way and let Franz enfold her. Gunther now moved implacably toward the door. Those who were between him and it scrambled to be someplace else. He stepped out the door and closed it, then stood still until he was sure he could see well enough to walk without running into anything.

"Klaus," he called.

"Here."

Gunther walked toward the sound, rounded a cart that was standing in the alleyway, and there found Klaus and Reuel holding the attacker up against the rear of the cart. His breathing had eased some, so that he was no longer choking and wheezing, but he still coughed and hacked frequently. That such a piece of filth could-would-assault someone under his protection stoked the furnace of Gunther's ire to a level that would melt steel. He stopped in front of the drooping figure, grabbed his hair and slammed his head back against the cart, receiving a cry in response.

"I do not know you, and I know everyone in Magdeburg worth knowing. You are new to Magdeburg, are you not?" he snarled in the local German dialect. The man, whites of his eyes gleaming all around the irises, gulped and tried to nod. "Who are you?"

"Johann Gruber," the unkempt man slurred.

"What did you think to do in there?"

"I… I…"

"Spit it out, sow's get!"

"I thought she was a whore!" the man blurted. "She was dressed so strangely-indecently! Her hair was unbound in public. She was singing in a tavern! What was I to think?"

Gunther slammed his head back against the cart again. "If you had been thinking, you would have realized that no one was treating her like a whore, that everyone was respecting her and her companions. You would have had even the small enough amount of wisdom to ask questions." Wham! went the head against the cart one more time, leaving the man even woozier than he was when he was dragged out of the tavern.

When Gruber seemed to be able to focus again, Gunther said in a softer tone, "Have you heard of the Americans, in whatever midden you climbed out of?" Receiving a shaky nod in return, he said, "She is American." The man moaned, and sagged to the point that it was only the strength of Klaus and Reuel that kept him out of the reeking mud. "Yes, now wisdom arrives. If you had managed to harm her, they would have hunted you to the ends of the earth, they would have razed the town where you were born to the ground and sowed that ground with salt, they would have made your name so notorious that mothers would have used you as a bogey-man to frighten their children with."

Gunther stepped back. "You know of the Americans." His voice was hard again. "Do you also know of the Committees of Correspondence?" A shaky nod. "Do you know of Gunther Achterhof?" Again a nod. Leaning forward close enough to smell the foul breath of the frightened Gruber, he snarled, "I am Gunther, and that woman is under my protection. Tell me, why should I not kill you now, and leave the world a cleaner place?"

There was an acrid reek as the now thoroughly-panicked man's bladder released and he tried to struggle with those who pinioned his arms. Gunther let him struggle for a moment more, then stepped up and grabbed his hair again, yanking his head around to stare at him eye to eye. "I should kill you now…" he brought his large clasp knife out of his pocket, flicked it open and held it up in Gruber's vision, where he stared at it with dread fascination, "… but I will not. You are not worth cleaning your blood from my blade." Releasing him, he closed his knife and put it away.

"Even in her anger, Lady Marla," Gunther noted to himself in some surprise that he had started thinking of her that way, "had enough grace to command you be left alive and unmaimed." The object of his scorn and rage looked up, hope dawning in his eyes in the moonlight, until he saw the predatory smile on Gunther's face. "However, she said nothing about not punishing you."

The rock-hard maul of Gunther's fist drove into the pit of Gruber's stomach. Air whooped out of lungs, and Gunther watched in some satisfaction as he doubled over, retching. Long moments passed. Just as the wretch started to straighten a little, Gunther's boot crashed into his groin. Klaus and Reuel released him to drop to the mud. The three CoC men stared at him as he curled into an agonized ball, unable to do more than sob and gasp.

Gunther finally stirred. "Take him away from town, and leave him." His confederates looked at him in some surprise. He glowered at them, which produced its usual effect. They hastily dragged the moaning bundle of reeking cloth and limp body up and began marching it down the alley. Gunther watched until they turned the corner into the nearest street, then wiped his hands on his trousers and returned to the tavern.

Franz somehow put a damper on his anger as the door slammed behind the CoC man and turned to Marla, enfolding her in his arms. The others gathered around them, shaken, saying nothing, not touching, but emanating concern nonetheless. Marla was shaking slightly as she returned his embrace. "Shh, shh," he crooned. "It is all right. No reason to fear." He felt her shaking increase, and thought for a moment she was going to begin crying, until she pushed away from him and he saw that she was laughing. Laughing! Laughing with an angry icy glint to her eye, but laughing just the same. From the expressions he could see, their friends were as dumbstruck as he was.

"I'm not afraid," Marla finally explained. "I'm angry. No, I'm beyond anger-I'm furious." She pulled away from him, crossed her arms, and stared at the floor for long moments. She finally looked up with a crooked smile. "You might as well know, I guess. You would have found out sooner or later. When I was fourteen, I was nearly raped in the back seat of a school bus. If my brother hadn't missed me and come looking for me… well, it wouldn't have been good. He kicked the guy out of the bus, and then beat him to a pulp." She brooded for a time, staring at the floor. Franz didn't know what to say, so he decided that the course of wisdom was to say nothing and wait. Finally, Marla heaved a sigh. "Afterwards, I swore I wouldn't let that happen again, and learned a few things from Dan Frost and Frank Jackson. I hoped I would never need it, but…" another sigh, "… as Reverend Jones keeps saying, nowhere in the Bible does it say that life is fair." She turned to Franz with a fierce expression. "I wanted to hurt him. I wanted very much to hurt him very badly." Her voice took on a plaintive tone. "But, he hadn't actually hurt me, and he was ignorant. And what would it have accomplished, except to change the way you looked at me? I wouldn't chance that," her voice broke.

Franz once more took Marla in his arms. There were no words that he could say; all he could offer was the comfort of his presence. As his arms encircled her, her arms in turn went around him and delivered a ferocious hug. They stood thus for some time, sheltered by their friends.

They all turned as the rear door opened again.

Gunther found Marla and Franz standing near the door in a semi-circle of their friends. She had her hands in her jeans pockets, and his arm was around her shoulder. Her expression was calm… remote, even, but the fire in Franz's eyes was a match for that in Gunther's. Franz dropped his arm and took a step forward, saying with an understandable bitterness, "Is this how you protect her?"

Gunther felt a twist in his gut. He took a deep breath as Marla laid her hand on Franz's shoulder. "The fool was no one, an idiot who had just arrived in Magdeburg and had never seen American women. There was no real danger to Fraulein Linder. I regret that what happened, happened, but it will not happen again."

"You…" Franz began.

"Franz, enough," Marla interrupted. He turned his hot gaze on her, but she simply repeated, "Enough." Gunther watched as the anger drained, as the fire died away in Franz's eyes, leaving only a young man with worry and nascent grief on his face. She reached up to brush his hair back; he caught her hand and held it against his cheek for a moment.

"I couldn't stand it…" Franz murmured.

"I know."

They stood in a silent tableau for a moment, then Marla dropped her hand and turned to Gunther. She eyed him expectantly. "I won't see him again, will I." It wasn't a question.

Gunther smiled thinly. "No. He is being escorted out of town, alive and unmarked," he held up both hands, "but chastened, and with a clear understanding that he is no longer welcome in Magdeburg."

"Thank you," Marla said quietly.

Gunther hesitated, then finally asked the question that had been in the front of his mind ever since the whole scenario had begun. "Fraulein Linder, what… what did you do to him?"

She stepped up to him. "This." Swift as a serpent, her hand flashed to his throat. His eyes widened as he felt her thumb and middle finger snap into the little hollows on each side of his larynx and begin to squeeze. The strength in those fingers was undeniable. He couldn't talk; he struggled to breathe, he felt the cartilage begin to creak. Just as a flutter of panic began to make itself felt, she released her hold and stepped back.

Gunther rubbed his throat, coughed experimentally and decided that things were where they belonged. "Fraulein Linder…" he said as she started to turn away.

"Call me Marla, Gunther."

He wondered why the brief smile flashed across Franz's face, but continued on with, "Would you sing the song for us?"

Franz was almost astounded at the nerve of Gunther Achterhof. To ask Marla to sing after such a thing happening! He opened his mouth to let the man know that, regardless of who he was, he had no right to ask Marla to sing for him or anyone else right now. Before he could speak, he heard Marla say, "Yes."

"Marla!" Now Franz was truly shocked.

"It's okay, Franz," she said. "Tonight I need it just as much as they do." The level stare from her blue eyes and the firm tone told him that it would be fruitless to argue further, so he sighed and followed her and their friends back to their table.

During the summer, as their circle of friends had performed the Irish music at the Gardens and elsewhere, they noticed that the members of the Committee of Correspondence quickly developed a real affinity for the Irish songs of rebellion. "The Rising of the Moon" became one of their favorites, and they would roar the words right along with Marla or Isaac as they sang. But there was another song that they asked for, over and over again. It got to the point that they just began asking for "The Song." It was one of those for which Marla had adapted the lyrics. It wasn't one of the bouncy, catchy ones; in fact, it was rather grim. They would never sing along with it, but every time they heard it, the CoC people seemed to condense and become almost all edge. Now, as Marla, Isaac and Rudolf readied themselves, the people of Magdeburg were about to hear for the first time what seemed to have become the CoC's anthem.

Isaac led off with a haunting line on his violin, almost a quiet wail. The room grew deathly still. Marla opened her mouth, and began to sing.

I sat within the valley green,

I sat me with my true love.

My sad heart strove the two between,

The old love and the new love.

The old for her, the new

That made me think on Deutschland dearly.

While soft the wind blew down the glade

And shook the golden barley.

Despite the softness of her tone, Marla's voice was very intense. It reached throughout the room, filling every nook and cranny, and it seemed to cast a spell. All were still. No one moved. No one did more than barely breathe. All in the room were focused on the tall young woman singing with the flute, violin and harp underlying her voice, pouring her heart and her talent and all of her emotions into the song.

'Twas hard the woeful words to frame

To break the ties that bound us.

But harder still to bear the shame

of foreign chains around us.

And so I said, the mountain glen

I'll meet at morning early.

I'll join the bold united men,

While soft winds shook the barley.

Earlier in the evening, Marla's voice had been warm, even inviting. Now, as she sang "The Song," it was just almost serene, with a purity of tone that was almost angelic, yet raising neck hairs all over the room. Franz shivered a little, knowing what was coming next.

'Twas sad I kissed away her tears,

My fond arms round her flinging,

When a foeman's shot burst on our ears

From out the wild woods ringing.

A bullet pierced my true love's side

In life's young spring so early.

And on my breast in blood she died,

While soft winds shook the barley.

A note of loss and grief had crept into Marla's voice, and almost they could hear the keening for the dead. By the end of the verse she sounded so forlorn that, despite himself, despite knowing the song intimately, Franz felt tears welling up in response.

The first two lines of the last stanza were snarled, and several of the hearers jumped.

But blood for blood without remorse

I've taken at Oulart Hollow.

The second two lines were sung quietly again, almost meditatively, but again with a forlorn note.

I've lain my true love's clay cold corpse

Where I full soon must follow.

Marla was giving the finest performance of this song that Franz had ever heard; far surpassing the recorded version she had learned it from. The final lines were so poignant, and Marla invested them with so much grief, that his heart ached within him.

Around her grave I've wandered drear,

Noon, night, and morning early,

With breaking heart whene'er I hear

The wind that shakes the barley.

No one stirred. No applause was given. Finally, through the moisture in his eyes, Franz saw Gunther give Marla a salute and slip out of the tavern.

Friday, October 21, 1633

Marla hammered out the final chords of the "Revolutionary Etude," bringing it to a driving finish. She held the final chord for a long moment, then released the keys and sat back on the bench, smiling. "Well," she said to herself-or so she thought-"that wasn't too bad."

"I agree."

Gasping, she sat bolt upright and twisted on the bench, only to recognize Mary Simpson seated in a chair some distance behind her in the great room. "You startled me!"

Mary laughed. "Marla, my dear, I could have come in the door with clashing cymbals and you wouldn't have heard me. I don't think I've ever seen anyone focus like you do when you play."

"How long have you been here?"

"Let's see… I believe I came in during the middle of the Waltz in C# Minor, and after that I heard the 'Moonlight Sonata' and the 'Revolutionary Etude.' All of which, I might add, were performed very well."

Marla blushed a little. "Thank you."

The other woman stood, walked over to the piano and leaned against it. "So," she said, "have you decided on your program yet?"

"I think so… the instrumental part of it, anyway."

"And what are you considering?"

Marla began ticking off her fingers, beginning with the thumb. "For the flute, the first movement of the Spring concerto of Vivaldi's The Seasons."

"Good," Mary nodded.

"For the piano, Bach-either the Little Fugue in G or 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.' "

"Umm, I think maybe the Jesu would be the better choice, but I wouldn't argue with either one. What's next?"

"Piano, Mozart-first movement of 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,' " ticking off the index finger.

"The transcription I heard the other day? Excellent! Next?"

The middle finger was ticked for "Piano, Beethoven-first movement of the 'Moonlight Sonata.' "

Mary frowned. That frown caused Marla to tense a little. "I agree the program needs Beethoven," Mary said slowly, "but I'm not sure that's the best piece to use. It's beautiful, of course, and you did an excellent job of playing earlier, but I'm afraid it's too still, too placid for the audience you're going to have. You risk losing their attention with that one. Hmmm, do you know 'Fur Elise'?"

"I have the music for it, but I haven't played it in quite some time." Marla attempted to hide her reluctance, but Mary noticed.

"Marla, I'm really not trying to be patronizing. You are the artist, not me, and you know best at this point what you can play." Mary straightened to her full height. "But, I know these people, and I'm telling you that 'Moonlight Sonata' would be a mistake for this program. Later, after you've raised their understanding of music, they will appreciate the elegance of it. Now, they would just consider it simple, and would tune it out. You would lose them, and probably not regain their attention. For your first recital, and the first program of the music we-sorry, not we, but you-have to offer, you really can't risk that. If you don't like 'Fur Elise,' then find something comparable that you like that you can work up quickly."

The older woman stared steadily at Marla as she worked through everything that Mary had just told her. She didn't like anyone telling her what she could play, but Mary was right… she didn't know these people. And, truth to tell, since she had never performed a recital like this at all, she really didn't have any experience of her own to guide her. It took several moments before Marla came to the conclusion that Mary was the closest thing to a mentor she had right now. Mary's experience in the world of music and the arts, although not that of a performer, was so much wider than her own, particularly in the area of production. It would be at best foolish, and at worst suicidal to ignore her advice at this stage of her career.

Decision made, Marla gave one firm nod. "I can polish up 'Fur Elise' fairly quickly."

Mary smiled. "Good. You won't be sorry for the change."

"For the final piano piece," Marla resumed her program list, "I considered something by Mendelssohn, one of the 'Songs Without Words,' perhaps, but I finally decided to do one of the Chopin pieces."

"Do you have a preference?"

Marla grinned. " 'Revolutionary Etude,' of course."

"Good choice," Mary replied, her own smile broadening.

Marla set her hands back on the keys and began doodling a little, feeling good about what they had just worked out, and likewise feeling good about how her relationship with Mary seemed to be developing. When she first arrived several days ago, she was somewhat uncertain about how to react to Mary Simpson. She had heard all the stories about the Simpsons, and even though they seemed to have changed, those stories had worried her a little. Too, arriving the way she did hadn't done anything to bolster her self-confidence, either. But Mary seemed willing to give her room and not dictate her every move. She could live with that, she decided.

Looking up, she said, "Tell me something…"

Mary raised her eyebrows. "All right."

"Why is the piano here? In the Weaver guild hall, I mean."

"Basically, politics," Mary responded with a laugh.

"Politics?" Even to her own ear, Marla sounded as confused as she felt.

"Not national politics, dear. Community politics, the kind I used to see in Pittsburgh all the time."

"Umm…"

"What happened," Mary explained, "was that word got around that I was bringing you and the piano to Magdeburg, and that you would be giving a concert. Well, that immediately started a spirited competition to see who would get to host you. Several of the guilds and even a couple of the wealthy burgomeisters made offers."

"So how did the weavers win?"

Mary grinned wickedly. "First of all, they had the nicest room. That gave them an advantage… although I didn't tell them that, of course. Second, they trumped everyone else by offering to pay for all the costs to relocate the piano and to support you and the others for six months. I didn't even have to prompt them; they gave that offer on their own initiative. Of course, I didn't tell them how much they overbid the others, either."

"Of course," Marla murmured, continuing with her doodling.

"It's a fair trade. We got what we needed to get you here and get you established, and they get a major prestige boost of the finest kind." Mary sat up straight, as if something had jabbed her. "Oh, by the way, dear, you may be sharing the billing. I've been trying to get Maestro Frescobaldi to come here from Florence."

"Italy?" Marla was astounded.

"Of course, Italy, dear. If we can bring him here and introduce him to our modern music, he could be an influential force in spreading the information and the techniques."

"Um, wow." Marla had moved from astounded to stunned. "I'm, uh… are you sure about that? I mean, about me being in the same recital as someone like Frescobaldi?"

"Of course, dear. You have the talent, and you have music that no one else can play or sing. Besides, it's not even definite yet that he can or will come. The Medicis may very well refuse him permission to leave their court."

Marla decided she had too much to do to worry about Frescobaldi right now. She began playing through part of the Jesu piece. After a few measures, she asked, "How long do I have to finish drawing up the vocal part of the program?"

"I'm leaving for Grantville soon, and I'll be gone for a while. I'd say until about November fifteenth. We have to have time to write and print the programs, if nothing else. Among other things, I'm working with Elizabeth Matowski to fund a performance of The Nutcracker."

"Elizabeth Matow…" Marla began, confused, but suddenly the light dawned. "Oh, you mean Bitty!"

"Bitty?" Mary was now confused in her own right.

"Oh, nobody calls her by her name. She's gone by Bitty for years."

"Is that short for Elizabeth?"

Marla laughed. "Nobody knows what it stands for. She won't say. But, she's pretty attached to that name. Somebody called her 'Bitsy' one day, and she tore into him and chewed him up one side and down the other.

"So, she's doing Nutcracker this year? That's great! I really missed seeing it the last couple of years."

"Let's say I've talked her into it," Mary said. "She's the best hope of bringing modern ballet to this time. I haven't actually met her yet, but from the letters I've received she doesn't seem to like me very much, though."

"I took dance from her for a few years as a kid, until I shot up six inches in the middle of sixth grade. I quit when I caught a good glimpse of myself in a mirror next to the other dancers. I looked like a pelican among ducks. Anyway, I know from experience that Bitty's a perfectionist and can definitely be prickly at times."

"I can deal with her not liking me." Mary's eyes had turned steely gray. "But she needs my help if she wants to preserve and spread ballet. She needs to work with me."

"Bitty's pretty sharp," Marla replied, still doodling on the piano, marveling a little at how she seemed to be somehow sidling into an inner circle. She doubted that Mary would say the things she'd just revealed to just anyone. "But she's not really very fond of people telling her how to stage her shows. I imagine that as long as you really listen to her, give her a little respect and let her handle the staging, she'll get along with you."

Mary absorbed that in silence, then nodded slowly. "All right." After a moment, she sat down in a nearby chair and continued, "Anyway, I'll probably be gone for about two weeks, so you'll have time to finalize the total program before I return. Do you have any thoughts?"

"There's an aria by Purcell I can do, and of course something from The Messiah. I was thinking something by Mozart, maybe from The Magic Flute or the Requiem."

"Can you do the 'Queen of the Night' aria from The Magic Flute?"

Marla squirmed a little. "Well," dragging the syllable out, "I've never performed it. My teacher was working it with me right before the Ring fell."

"I'll bow to your judgment, but if you can do it, that would create exactly the kind of effect we're looking for. What else?"

"Something Verdi or Puccini, don't know what yet."

" 'Un Bel Di,' perhaps?"

"That's one I'm thinking about."

"What about something from northern Europe?" Mary asked.

"Wagner, Mahler and Bruckner would be too over the top, I think."

Mary laughed. "Agreed. What about Schubert or Brahms, though?" Before Marla could answer, Mary's eyes kindled, and she exclaimed, "Schubert! What about 'Der Erlkonig'?"

"Umm, I don't know. Wouldn't that seem awfully pagan… I mean, given the times, and all?"

"No, no, no," Mary said quickly. "The audience for this performance will be the educated elite, the patrons, and they have all been steeped in the Greek and Roman myths. I don't think they would flinch at a literary treatment of one of their own."

"Okay." Marla was a little dubious, but she'd already decided to follow Mary's judgment in things like this. "I think I've got the music, but I've never sung it, so it will take some time to work it up. If I remember right, that's in a pretty low key. It might be under my range."

"Can you transpose it?"

"Sure, but it might sound funny."

"I've heard it done by a soprano. I believe it was Jessye Norman. It was very effective. See what you can do, please." Mary tapped her lips with a finger. "We don't have time for anything Russian. Wait… what about Rachmaninoff's 'Vocalise'?"

"I don't have the music."

"That's a pity. Well, it can't be helped, I suppose."

Marla didn't mention to Mary that there was at least one recording of the piece in Grantville and Thomas could notate it from the recording. She was afraid that what was supposed to be a recital was going to be a marathon as it was, without including a bunch of new music like the 'Vocalise.'

Mary set that disappointment behind her, and moved on. "What are your thoughts about twentieth-century choices?"

"I figured I'd select mostly Broadway songs," Marla said. "Partly because the Impressionist, post-Impressionist and Modernist stuff would be so dissonant to seventeenth-century ears, and partly because that's really the only kind of music I have from that time." She smiled. "Sort of making a virtue out of necessity. I haven't made any choices yet, though."

"Then the only thing I'll say now is to look at the strongly melodic composers: Sondheim, Lloyd Webber, maybe even some of the Disney composers." Marla felt her eyebrows raise, and Mary gave her light laugh again. "Oh, yes, there are some delightful little songs hidden in some of the Disney musicals. It's just a thought, though."

Marla shrugged. "I'll check it out."

She had been doodling all the while, and now her doodling led into a quiet rendition of "Amazing Grace." She played it several times through, varying the style each time. She held the final chord for several moments, letting the sound resonate. After it died away, she released the keys.

"Very nice," Mary commented. "I'm always amazed at how easily musicians can improvise."

"I'm not really very good at improvising," Marla replied. "I know that hymn well, so I know when and how to change it up. But if you hand me a new melody and tell me to improvise while I'm sight reading it, I'd be doing good to just put simple chords behind it the first few times through it. I need to improve, though, because it's considered one of the standards of musicianship in this era. Bach was well known for it, for example. If you want to hear someone who's really proficient at improvising, even by down-time standards, you should hear Maestro Carissimi some time. He's so good at it I can't even be jealous. He's awesome."

Mary took a deep breath. "Carissimi? Giacomo Carissimi? Composer of the oratorio Jephtha?"

"That's the one," Marla grinned.

"Franz told me he was in Grantville," Mary said. "I was stunned. I still am. I almost went to Grantville that day. The thought of meeting him just sends chill bumps up and down my spine." Marla found it a bit humorous that Mary sounded much like a school girl hoping to meet her favorite teen idol. There was a definite air of excitement about her, unlike her normal cool, collected grace. "Tell, me what is he like?"

"Well, he's very reserved, almost shy, but he seems to be a very nice man. He doesn't act like he's famous or anything. In fact, he seems to want to keep a low profile. His friend, Signor Girolamo Zenti, attracts a lot more attention. I had to read in the encyclopedia and some of the album notes to find out about him, or the him that would have been before the Ring fell." Marla paused for a moment… something about what she just said didn't sound right. "I mean… oh, never mind. Even without those write-ups, though, I would have known he was really talented, really good, just from the way he talks about music and from the way he took to the piano."

"He's learning piano, then?"

"Oh, yes. He's made connections with Elizabeth Jordan, my old voice teacher. She's a pretty good pianist in her own right, so she can show him all about it. Plus, she's got copies of all my notes from the seminars we did this summer, so I'm sure he'll be picking her brain about all of that, too. From what I could tell before we left, he was obsessed with learning as much as he could as quickly as he could."

The two women shared a smile as they both remembered their conversation about obsession on Marla's first day in Magdeburg.

"So, Franz said something about him writing a piece for you? For the recital, I assume," Mary said.

"Actually, no it's not." Mary looked surprised as Marla continued. "No, it seems that he has conceived of a new piece since the Battle of Wismar. He wants to write a lament, a formal eulogy piece, in memory of Hans Richter."

Mary was quiet for a very long moment, staring off in space.

"Mary?"

"Hmm? Oh, sorry, just thinking that through. Methinks I detect the fine hand of Mike Stearns in that. I could be wrong; it could be Don Francisco Nasi, but I'll wager that one or the other of them is involved in it." Mary saw Marla's confusion, and gave one of her light chuckles. "No, dear, I'm not disparaging them. Mike, probably more than anyone except my husband and Colonel Wood, knows the bitterness of the price paid to win that battle. But at the same time, it's entirely too convenient that a composer of Giacomo Carissimi's stature arrives in Grantville and just happens to want to write this piece at a time when it would have the most political benefit.

"Oh, I'm sure it will be a fabulous piece of music, and no doubt it will be a catharsis for everyone who hears it. Mike would push for it anyway, because he would think it the right thing to do, but he wouldn't be Mike Stearns if he didn't see the political advantage of it as well.

"So, does Maestro Carissimi have a title for it yet?"

"The last I heard, he was going to call it 'Lament for a Fallen Eagle,' " Marla said.

Mary gasped. "That is perfect. That is absolutely perfect. That will mean so much to Sharon Nichols and Gretchen and the family, and will speak so strongly to everyone in the country as well. Have you seen anything of it yet?"

"No," Marla smiled. "Right before we left, he had started writing the theme and was really feeling handicapped because there is no orchestra in Grantville."

"Oh, no," Mary laughed. "How did he take that?"

"Well, he tried for a little while to score it for band instruments. He figured out pretty quickly that wouldn't work, though. That was about the only time I saw him showing strong emotion during the little while I was around him. He threw his pencil down on the desk, grabbed the sheet of paper he was working on and tore it into little pieces. He muttered something in Italian that I think must have been pretty vulgar. At least, Signor Zenti looked awfully surprised at what he heard."

"So what is he going to do?"

"Well," Marla said, "he found out that about the only string players in Grantville are my friends Isaac and Josef, and that Rudolf, Thomas and Hermann can play flute. So, he told me that he would score it for that ensemble with piano right now, and rescore it later after he finds an orchestra."

"Something else we need to work on," Mary noted. "Not now, dear," in response to Marla's alarmed look. "Not until after the New Year, anyway," and she chuckled again at the resulting expression of relief. "So, will you be involved in the lament, other than providing the instrumental ensemble?"

"It's for solo voice with instruments," Marla said, "and he's asked me to sing the solo."

A pleased smile spread across Mary's face. "That's wonderful, Marla. Principal performer in a high-profile work by a major composer. This will help establish you just as much as your recital will. When does he think it will be performed?"

"Well, that's the tough part. He wants to do it before Christmas in Grantville."

"What?" Mary looked aghast. "But you're doing your recital here in Magdeburg on December fifteenth!"

"Tell me about it. I really want to do it, but there has to be some travel time and at least one rest day. And I-we-have to see the music soon."

"Yes, you do." Mary looked determined. "I will see to that."

"Thank you."

Mary leaned over and placed her hand over Marla's. "You will be a great success, my dear, both in your recital and in Maestro Carissimi's work as well. Believe that."

Marla watched as her new mentor picked up her coat and walked out of the room. She was still impressed at how much strength of purpose and will was enclosed in that small lady, and she was very glad to have her support.

Tuesday, November 16, 1633

"I can't wear that."

Franz winced a little at the sharp tone in Marla's voice. They were in Mary Simpson's parlor, gathered with Mary and a seamstress. It was Mary's first day back from her trip to Grantville. She had called the women together to address the question of what Marla would wear for her concert performance. Franz had quietly shadowed Marla, as was his wont. He could have told Mary that Marla would reject the down-time styles, but as the lone male in the room, he wisely chose the course of silence.

Affronted, the seamstress looked first at the young woman who had spoken, and then at Mary Simpson. Marla caught that glance, and before Mary could say anything, she continued, "I'm sorry, no offense, but it's just… too much. Too much fabric, too much bulk. I wouldn't be able to move freely. That outfit would restrict me in playing the flute and the piano."

The seamstress' daughter, who was modeling a clothing ensemble similar to what the seamstress wanted to prepare for Marla, did a slow turn, showing off her mother's fine work. Franz admired the quality of the tailoring; it was equal to anything he had ever seen in the prince-bishop's court in Mainz. But, somehow he doubted that he would ever see Marla wearing anything like it.

"Are you sure?" Mary asked.

"Yes," her young protege answered firmly. "I mean, look at it: underskirts, overskirt, bodice, blouse, jacket, large sleeves, ruff collar. At least it's not an Elizabethan ruff, but still…" She laughed a little. "Mary, without shoes I'm four to six inches taller than most of the down-time women. What looks dainty on them would start to look ponderous by the time it's scaled up to my proportions, besides the fact it would make me so bulky I'd have trouble getting through doorways and sitting on chairs."

Franz nodded agreement from his seat by the stove.

"Not to mention," Marla frowned at the model as she concluded, "that after a few minutes of performing in that rig," the seamstress bristled a little-she wasn't sure what a 'rig' was, but it didn't sound complimentary-"I'd be sweating like a pig." Turning to her mentor, Marla said, "I understand why I can't wear my prom dress… bare arms and shoulders, and all that."

"That's right," Mary replied. "After that little episode at The Green Horse, you should understand the problem of down-time perceptions now."

Marla shrugged. Franz felt the flash of anger he felt every time he thought about what had happened a month ago. Marla had been able to put it out of her mind by the day after, but he still wanted to hurt someone… preferably the fool who had accosted Marla. His fists balled… or at least his right one did. The pain from his crippled left hand as it tried to close jerked him out of his mood. He forced himself to relax, rubbing the stiffened ring and little fingers on the crippled hand.

"I'm willing to accommodate perceptions." Marla had quieted. Perhaps she hadn't put that unpleasant event totally out of her mind after all. "But only to some extent, and definitely not if it interferes with my ability to perform." She stood, stretched her arms out, and performed her own slow rotation in front of the other women. "Mary, Frau Schneider, look at me. I am five feet nine and one-half inches tall in my bare feet, and I weigh somewhere around one hundred fifty pounds. I am not a small woman, and you can't dress me like I am. I may not know yet what will look good on me, but I'm very certain that what I've seen today will not work."

"Well, what do you want, dear?" Mary asked.

The young woman sat down again with a pensive look. "I don't know." There was a pause. "I just want to look… elegant." The momentary expression of longing that crossed her face tugged at Franz's heart.

Mary smiled her slight smile and reached into the large bag on the table near her. "Do you think you could wear something like this?" She pulled out a piece of paper with a bright splash of color on it.

Franz could see that it was the shiny paper that was found in some of the "magazines" that had come from up-time. He couldn't see more than that from where he was seated, but obviously it attracted Marla's attention. She took it from Mary's hand and focused on it. After a long moment, she nodded. "Yes, I could. We'd have to make sure I could raise my arms without binding, but I think… I think this would work. I like it."

"Good." Mary retrieved the page. "Frau Schneider," she beckoned the seamstress over, "can you make something like this?"

The down-time woman took the page, and her eyes widened a little as she took in the picture. After a moment, she said, "Yes, but…"

"But what?"

"Is this a dress? It looks more like a shift for bed wearing," with a slight frown.

Both Mary and Marla laughed, and Mary responded, "Yes, it is a dress. It's called an Empire style, and I had a little trouble finding a picture of one that I could bring back with me." She stood, and took the page back from the seamstress. "I suspected that Marla would not care for the styles currently in favor at the courts. She is right, you know. She is enough larger than most women here and now that she would look odd and out of place in court dress. But she is also right in her desire to look elegant. Here," Mary tapped the paper, "here is the solution: a dress that is somewhat fitted on the top, yet free to flow from the high waist; a dress that will allow her the freedom to move as she needs, yet will at the same time look elegant."

"But… but…" Frau Schneider sputtered, "it is so… so plain!"

Mary's smile returned. "Marla, stand up again, please." Turning to the seamstress, "Look at her, Frau Schneider. Imagine her dressed in that dress, in a deep, rich color. See her carriage, her grace. Imagine her walking in that dress." The down-time woman said nothing, but after a few moments began to nod. "Yes," Mary said, "she needs no ornamentation. In fact, anything more than the richness of the fabric would detract from her."

The seamstress tapped her finger on her lips slowly several times, then gave a firm nod. "Yes, I can do this. I will do this. And perhaps," she smiled a little, "perhaps we will see this become the new fashion." Franz could just visualize her rubbing her hands together in glee at the thought that she might become the leading name in Magdeburg court dress with this new creation. "Velvet in rich color, you said. What color do you desire?"

Mary looked to Marla, who said, "I don't care, as long as it's not olive green, yellow or pink."

Looking back to the seamstress, Mary asked, "What would you recommend?"

Frau Schneider walked over to where Marla stood and peered at her, looking at her skin, her hair, her eyes. The young woman bore the seamstress' scrutiny calmly. "I would say a deep blue."

Mary nodded. "Do you have enough on hand to make such a dress?"

"I know where I can buy it."

"Good. My contacts could not find a pattern that I could acquire. Can you make it from this picture? And can it be done in four weeks?"

Once again the seamstress looked affronted. "Of course I can, Frau Simpson. And I have a Higgins sewing machine." Franz observed as the expression on her face settled to one of satisfaction, almost glee. "It will take me longer to get the cloth than it will to sew it."

"Good. Then why don't you and Marla step into the next room so you can measure her."

The seamstress, her subject and her daughter all moved into the office. Franz remained where he was seated, deciding that he would be just a bit superfluous in the bustle that would be occurring in the other room.

"Franz," Mary said quietly. He looked up, to see her beckoning to him. Rising, he walked across the room to the chair Marla had just vacated, and sat just as Mary was removing some other items from the bag on the table.

"First of all," Mary handed him a large packet of paper, "this is the final version of the parts to Maestro Carissimi's 'Lament for a Fallen Eagle.' You can give it to Marla after the measurements are done. Tell her that he has decided on St. Stephen's Day, the day after Christmas, for the performance."

Franz grinned. "She will not be happy that it was not given to her last night when you returned."

"I know." Mary smiled back, "but I know her well enough now to know that if I had given it to her last night, I wouldn't have been able to get her here for this session, and in its own way this time with Frau Schneider is almost as important She may not think so, but it is. So, I prioritized her time a little bit for her. She won't stay mad long, not after she gets her hands on it."

Mary then handed a small box to him. "This is the other thing we talked about."

Franz opened it carefully. The sight of what was revealed caused a wave of pleasure and anticipation welled up in him, to the extent that he felt light-headed. He bowed slightly to Mary. "It is beautiful. Thank you."

"It was truly my pleasure. Do you know yet when it will happen?"

"Oh, yes," he breathed, "I do."

Thursday, December 15, 1633

Mary Simpson paused for a moment to look around. The great room at the Weavers' guild hall was beginning to fill. Those she had invited to the concert tonight were beginning to arrive, and as expected, were bringing others with them.

From where she stood she could see her husband, the admiral, and a few of his naval officers talking to some of the younger nobility. The events of the month of October had rung the status quo of Europe like a bell. Many young men of the lesser noble families were displaying a surprising ability to read the Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin on the wall, and were seeking to enroll either in the newly mustering regiments or in the navy that was being built by John Simpson.

Beyond them stood Wilhelm Wettin (who, according to her sources, was becoming known as "The Great Commoner") and those men and Hoch-Adel present who were aligned with his growing movement, all deeply in conversation about some undoubtedly political topic. Fortunately, there were few in Magdeburg tonight who would contend with them, so hopefully this evening would be free of impassioned political debate.

To the other side of her she could see the group of women around the abbess of Quedlinberg, the core of her Magdeburg arts league. The names in that group were beginning to read like a Who's Who of many of the noble families in central Europe.

Yes, things were progressing nicely, and more were coming in the door at regular intervals. As she watched, a man entered who doffed his hat and cloak and handed them to a hovering guild apprentice, who bowed and scurried off to hang them in an impromptu cloak room. He was dressed well, in expensive forest green cut in an unfamiliar style, although not nearly as elaborately as the nobility in the room at the moment. The gentleman definitely knew how to make an entrance, striking a pose to shake his hair back and adjust his lace cuffs.

It took Mary a few moments to realize that she knew him, but as soon as she did she advanced across the floor. "Signor Zenti, how good of you to come." She had met the redoubtable Italian in Grantville during her recent trip to confirm Bitty Matowski's production of The Nutcracker ballet, due to be staged in two more weeks. Her time with him and his-to her-more notable companion, the composer Maestro Giacomo Carissimi, had been very enjoyable. Girolamo Zenti was an outrageous flirt, to be sure, who managed to have her laughing and blushing at the same time, while Maestro Carissimi tsk'd at him. However, when the topics turned to music and instruments, even in his sometimes stilted English, mangled German, and the Tuscan dialect that was partly comprehensible to her twentieth-century Italian ear, he still managed to communicate intensity and passion about his work. All in all, she approved of Signor Zenti.

The Italian gave an elaborate bow as she reached him, then took her hand and raised it to his lips. "Signora Simpson, when I realized that I would in Magdeburg be at this time, I swore to attend. Maestro Giacomo drove me, reminding me that I would to Magdeburg go soon at any event, and begging me most piteously to hear Signorina Linder's concert tonight and plead with her to hear her practice of his 'Lament.' The poor man is almost prostrate with nerves. Chewing his mustache, chewing his pens, chewing his lace he is, waiting for her to return to Grantville so he can hear how she will sing his new work." Zenti chuckled. "It is divertente… how you say… humorous, to see him fret."

Mary laughed. "You are an awful man, Signor Zenti."

"Si, so I am told many times," he said equably, turning away as others came in the door and claimed her attention. She watched out of the corner of her eye as he headed for the buffet tables at the back of the room. Zenti collected a glass of wine, but was diverted from the food tables by a stack of programs. The program text was in German for the most part, listing the pieces to be played, the composers and the "dates" of composition. For the vocal selections, especially those from opera and theatre, there were brief paragraphs establishing the context of the song and the related story.

Just then, Amalie, landgravine of Hesse-Kessel entered, which gave her a swift sense of relief. With Amalie and the abbess on hand, the success of this evening's event was assured. They quickly clasped hands, and delivered the obligatory kiss to each other's cheeks. Then the landgravine released one hand, and turned to face the man following her, drawing Mary with her.

"Mary, may I present to you our guest, Signor Andrea Abati. Andrea, this is Frau Mary Simpson, of whom we have told you so much."

Mary felt her composure start to slide as she faced her friend's guest; and she was forced to grasp it quite firmly. If Signor Zenti had made a definite entrance earlier, this man trumped that in spades, posing as if he were an up-time model. Signor Abati presented quite a figure, and from the slight smile on his face he obviously knew it. Tall even by up-time standards, he was lean, with a face framed by thick, long, curly red hair, that from the way it floated when he moved his head was not a wig. And the face-heavens, the man was beautiful.

Signor Abati was obviously not one to keep a low profile. His sartorial selection for the evening was a statement designed to attract maximum attention. Starting at the ground, the shoes were the soberest part of his ensemble, being a gleaming black with large buckles that were obviously gold. The stockings on his well-formed calves were an almost gleaming white silk, while the culottes that ended below the knee were of bronze brocade. Overlaying the britches was a long waistcoat in white, which was elaborately embroidered in gold thread. This was, in turn, overlaid by a silver brocade coat which reached almost to his knees. Lace spilled, fountained even, from his collar and sleeve cuffs. Atop his head was a flat-topped, high-crowned blue hat, out of which sprang plumes. Mary saw an ostrich plume, a peacock feather and a third that she did not recognize. The final component was an ebony cane with an ornately carved ivory head on it, held casually to one side.

On someone else, Mary would have sworn that an up-time pimp had somehow been in Grantville when the Ring fell, only to find a new career as a fashion consultant for the tailor involved. Signor Abati, however, had such panache, and exuded such an aura of self-confidence, that on him it worked.

Mary shook her head slightly, then extended her hand to the Italian. Signor Abati gave an even more flourishing bow than his countryman had earlier. When he took her hand to kiss it, he looked up at her through thick eyelashes and she felt like a doe in headlights. She railed at herself for acting like she was sixteen, but the feel of his lips on her hand sent her heart racing nonetheless. Clearing her throat, she said, "I… I'm pleased to meet you Signor Abati."

"Enchante, madame," he murmured in flawless French. His voice gave her another shock, for it was pitched higher than her own.

At that moment Landgrave Wilhelm stepped up and Mary forced herself to turn away from the Italian. After exchanging greetings, the landgrave suggested to his guest that they find the wine.

Mary turned to Amalie, and hissed, "Who is that?"

The landgravine gave a wicked little grin, and whispered, "He's from Rome. They call him Il Prosperino, and until recently he was il gentilhuomo premiere in that city, and the pope's favorite singer."

"Oh," Mary said, as the light dawned, "he's castrato."

"Mmm-hmm."

"Oh… my." Mary's thoughts whirled. "Well, what's he doing here?"

"He was invited to reside at the court of the elector of Brandenburg for a season, to sing for them. Both of his coach horses took lame near here, however, and he came to Magdeburg until they can be replaced or restored to health. Horses are in scarce supply, however," for military reasons, Mary thought, "and his are slow in healing, so it appears he will be our guest for some time." Amalie flashed her wicked little grin again, and murmured, "There are the most interesting rumors about him."

Recalling both her history and the effect Il Prosperino had had on her, Mary said faintly, "I can imagine."

Girolamo was headed for the buffet when he heard his name called in a soprano that seemed familiar but couldn't be placed.

"Signor Zenti! Signor Girolamo!"

He turned, a smile forming on his face, only to freeze when he saw someone who was one of the last people he had expected to see in Magdeburg. Il Prosperino! What was he doing here? He quickly made a bow. "Signor Abati. Signore stimatissimo ed illustre. Che sorpresa meravigliosa il vedervi!"

The other man bowed slightly, and laughed. "Infine, un viso civilizzata in questo incolto terreno culturale."

Girolamo caught a motion from the corner of his eye as someone near them turned and frowned. He stepped closer to his countryman. "Attento, mio signore estimato. Ci sono i presenti che capiscono l'italiano."

More laughter. "Shall we speak English, then?"

"Si, I mean, yes, esteemed sir."

Abati linked his arm through Girolamo's and they walked together as they conversed. "Do call me Andrea, and I shall call you Girolamo. We are almost brothers, are we not, in this cold, almost barbarous country?"

"Yes… Andrea."

"See, that was not so hard, was it? By the way, I must tell you that the harpsichord you made for the Holy Father was excellent, perhaps the finest I have played."

"Thank you." They were walking slowly around the perimeter of the room, with every eye on them. Girolamo was still somewhat nervous, and could not bring himself to say much yet, arm in arm with a man who was arguably as famous as the pope… at least in Italy.

"So," Abati said in his cool soprano tone, "this music we are to hear, will it be worth my while, or will I be as bored tonight as I have been on every other night of this trip?"

"I believe you will find it worthwhile," Girolamo said, mustering his assurance.

"Of course Maestro Frescobaldi's works will be of interest, but what of this woman who will sing?" Doubt dripped from Il Prosperino's tones.

"Even so. Maestro Carissimi judges her accomplished enough to sing his newest work, a lamento."

Eyes wide, his companion stopped and said, "Maestro Carissimi is here? In Magdeburg?"

"No, he is in Grantville, where the lamento will be performed soon."

They resumed walking slowly. Abati said slowly, "I met il Maestro some time ago. He is a composer most gifted, and he writes such beautiful melodies. If he thinks that highly of her, then I will truly listen."

Marla peered out through a crack between the room dividers that screened off the end of the hall from the area where the guests were. Hermann had been playing music on the piano for some time, music from the down-time era. She could see the guests milling around and conversing, grazing from the buffet and soaking up wine. Hermann's music seemed to be providing dinner accompaniment. It still seemed strange to her that the concert would include food and drink, but Mary had explained to her that this was simply the way things were done here and now. Now that she thought of it, though, it really wasn't any different than singing in The Green Horse. If she could grab the attention of two-fisted drinkers in taverns, surely she could do it here.

She placed her hand over the gold cross hanging around her neck under the dress, remembering when Mrs. Simpson had given it to her earlier in the evening.

Marla was finishing dressing, using her mother's ebony combs to draw her long hair back from her face to let it cascade down behind her ears and down to the high waist of the Empire gown, when the older woman had entered the room carrying a small box. "Let me look at you, my dear." Marla had stood straight and turned slowly, coming around to face her mentor, who was wearing a big smile.

"Oh, Marla. You look exquisite. You only need a few touches." She had set the box down on a table, opened it, and showed it to Marla, who gasped. "I will loan you these tonight to provide just the right accent of elegance." She lifted out the pearl drop earrings and handed them to Marla, who received them very gingerly. "John gave these to me on our fifth wedding anniversary. He was stationed in Viet Nam for a while, and was able to buy these over there, even on a lieutenant's salary." As Marla had put them in her earlobes, Mary had lifted out the necklace and unfastened it. "This, too. Here, let me help you put this on." Marla remembered lifting her hair out of the way and bending down slightly so Mary could fasten the necklace around her neck.

Mary had turned back to the box and lifted out a thin gold chain with a crucifix hanging from it. "The pearls are for the audience. This one is for me. My mother gave this to me when I graduated from college. We-John and I-only had one son, and we… weren't on good terms with Tom when he left." Mary had looked slightly forlorn. "I know… hope… we will eventually reconcile, but I don't know when. In any event, this isn't something for a man, anyway."

Mary had looked her in the eyes. "I know you lost your mother when the Ring fell. In a way, this would be your senior recital, so let me give this to you in her place." As in a dream, Marla again lifted her hair and let Mary fasten the necklace around her neck. "Tuck it under your dress, dear. This will be our secret."

The two Italians had collected glasses of wine and continued to drift around the hall, conversing about this and that. It occurred to Girolamo that perhaps Il Prosperino was keeping him by himself for familiarity's sake. The northerners in this room would be a strange audience to him, which, as hard as it might be to believe, just might be causing a slight amount of uncertainty. Certainly, he was making no attempt to capitalize on the many swooning glances directed at him by many of the young-and even not-so-young-women in the room. Most unlike him, according to his reputation.

"So, my friend," his countryman said as they drew up behind the instrument being played by the very short German. "What is this… this Steen… way?"

"Steinway," Girolamo corrected.

Andrea grimaced, and said, "Steinway, then. It looks like as if it might be un grandissimo harpsichord, yes? But it sounds nothing like one."

"It is," Girolamo declared, "a piano, and it will revolutionize music."

"Oh, come now," the other scoffed. "Surely that is very strong language for such a thing."

"That is not just my judgment, sir, but that also of Maestro Carissimi."

"Is it indeed?" Andrea's attitude returned to thoughtfulness. "So then, what or who is this 'Steinway'?"

"It is the name of the family who built it. They were Germans originally…"

"Surely you jest," the other said with a smile. "Can anything excellent come out of Germany?"

Zenti chuckled at the Biblical allusion. "Andrea, from what the up-timers tell us, the future of music was almost dominated by Germans not long after our time. Composers, instrument makers, orchestras, it was all in their hands."

His companion stared at Girolamo with wide eyes. "I find that very hard to believe, but I must take your word for it. So, this Steinway was a German, then?"

"The family name was originally Steinweg, but after moving to America they changed it to Steinway."

"Did they invent this piano, then?"

"No, it was invented by a Tuscan."

"I knew it!"

Girolamo smiled at the enthusiasm for things Italian heard in the other's voice. "But it was this Steinway who took a number of innovations and created the great instrument you see before you. Even at the time when this so-called Ring of Fire occurred, for one hundred fifty years Steinway was the standard of excellence for pianos."

"And why do you know so much about them?"

"Because I will make pianos, and I will learn from the best. I just concluded the purchase of the only other Steinway in Grantville, one that is in need of renovation, for that express purpose."

Andrea sniffed. "I do not care much for their cabinet ornamentation. So plain," he said disparagingly. "Even your journeyman work was much better."

"There is a certain Spartan elegance to it. When it is so simple, it must be absolutely flawless. However, those who will come to me will want more, of course. I think you will find that I have not lost my skill. But of all people, Andrea," Girolamo said gently, "you should know that the quality of the gems on the hilt say nothing of the quality of the blade in the sheath. So it is here. I will learn from the best."

And with that, they began walking again, with Abati whispering improvised scurrilous doggerel in gutter Italian about various random individuals in the room, reducing Zenti to almost helpless laughter.

Marla returned to the present as Franz stepped up beside her, dropping her hand from where it had rested over the cross. She was still somewhat surprised by the gift from Mary-not the value of it, because it wasn't that much, but the personal-ness of it. She wondered at why it had been given, then shook her head to clear it.

"Is it time, yet?" she demanded of Franz.

"Almost," he replied. "I think I see Princess Kristina entering now."

Mary turned as the latest group entered the hall, and sighed in relief as she recognized Princess Kristina and Lady Ulrike. Finally. Now the concert could begin.

"Mrs. Simpson," from the princess.

"Princess Kristina." Mary bent and offered her hand. Having just spent a couple of weeks together on the round trip to Grantville, she and Kristina got along well. "I'm so glad you came tonight. I believe you will enjoy the music."

"Thank you, Mrs. Simpson," the young girl replied in her Swedish accented English.

Mary walked with them as they visited the buffet. She helped Kristina make her selections and collect a glass of apple cider, then escorted them to the chairs that had been set aside for them as the evening's most important guests. As she straightened and looked around, she could see Franz Sylwester standing against the side wall, watching her. Stepping away from the people who were slowly but not-so-subtly drifting to coalesce around the princess, she beckoned to him.

"Is she ready?"

"Past ready," Franz chuckled. "She dances as if she has ants in her stockings."

Mary laughed. "Are the others ready?"

"Yes. All are feeling some nervousness, perhaps, but excitement as well."

"How about you?"

Franz sobered. "I am ready to do my part. I hope to, ah, 'get it right,' as Marla says."

"And is tonight the night?"

The brightness of his smile almost blinded Mary. She waved her hand at him. "Go. Tell them to begin any time." He stepped back from her and slipped along the wall to disappear behind the room dividers.

Franz stepped in behind the room dividers, and walked over to where Marla and the others waited. They looked at him expectantly, and in Marla's case, impatiently. "Mary says to begin at any time." They stood and gathered their instruments.

"Isaac," Marla said, "give Hermann the high sign. We'll start as soon as he finishes the piece he's playing now." Turning to Franz, she accepted a quick hug and kiss on the forehead. "It's time."

Hermann stopped playing the piano background music. Most everyone in the hall looked in that direction for a moment as a screen was placed in front of the piano, followed by an ornately decorated harpsichord placed in front of the screen. There was a brief spatter of applause as Mary stepped forward to offer her hand to a somewhat pudgy man and lead him from his seat to the harpsichord.

"Princess," she bowed her head in that direction, "lords and ladies, friends, please lend your ears to the music of Maestro Girolamo Frescobaldi as he presents toccatas, canzonas and ricercare for your enjoyment." A slight amount of applause sounded as she returned to her seat by her husband.

The next hour or so was filled with music of the time, the contrapuntal works for which the good maestro was known. Mary watched the audience as much as she did the performer, and noted that although a good many of the people did pay him some attention, there were others who never once looked his direction.

The question of where Prime Minister Stearns was kept popping up in her mind. He had accepted her invitation, but as of yet still hadn't made an appearance. That wasn't like him. For all that he wasn't her favorite person on the face of the earth, he was unfailingly polite to her and would have made his excuses if something had arisen to prevent his coming. She kept wondering what had come up. After the third time through those thoughts, she firmly banished them to the back of her mind and spent the rest of the time listening to the music.

At length Maestro Frescobaldi's portion of the program came to a close. He stood and gave his bows, spoke to the princess for a moment after she motioned him over, then resumed his seat. The harpsichord meanwhile was removed. Then the screen was drawn aside to reveal the stark lines of the ebony Steinway, gleaming in the candlelight.

Mary's heart seemed to swell as she saw Marla leading the other players into view from behind the other screens. Tall in her royal blue Empire gown, Marla looked well from the audience, she decided. The richness of the velvet, with no ornament except the many small gold buttons lining the long sleeves; the high white collar framing her dark hair and face; the pearls-all combined into a picture of elegance that truly made Marla the focus of attention. The women in the hall all leaned toward each other and whispered behind fans and programs at the sight of the gown. Mary smiled. The seamstress would undoubtedly be receiving inquiries tomorrow.

The whispers redoubled as Marla raised her flute. No one in Magdeburg had seen a metal transverse flute before, and the Bohm keys just added to the mystery of what sound it was going to produce. Mary saw her give the slight dip of the head that gave the count to the others, and they began.

The first notes of the first movement of Vivaldi's La Primavera took flight, and everyone in the room stopped. The rapid notes as Marla played the solo part on the flute just mesmerized every listener. Mary looked over at Princess Kristina, who was staring at Marla, eyes gleaming, watching her fingers fly. The thin grouping of instruments behind the solo flute-violin, viola d'amore, Baroque flute and piano-sounded unusual to Mary, but she had to admit that they did justice to the piece.

It seemed like only moments passed, and suddenly it was done. A spattering of polite applause was offered. As the others filed out behind the room dividers, Franz came out and raised the piano lid, propping it to its most open position. He turned and took Marla's flute, then left.

There was a burst of conversation as the transition occurred, but as soon as Marla sat down it began to quiet. Mary was impressed that, by the time Marla began, the room was still again. She had anticipated that Marla would eventually become the focus of the audience's attention, but in the event it occurred much quicker than she had expected.

Franz slipped down the side wall of the hall, emerging from behind the room divider screens to watch this portion of the concert from the back. The piano pieces rolled smoothly, one to another. His heart lifted and soared with each, watching Marla; watching her every graceful move at the piano-never quite still, always moving, leaning forward, back, to one side or the other, hands lifting, floating across the keys.

The 'Little' Fugue in G minor, BWV578, by Johann Sebastian Bach, greatest scion of that incredible family of musicians, now never to be if the butterfly effect theory was correct. It was performed without flaw, and was received by a burst of spontaneous applause at its conclusion.

The first movement of the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K525, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, perhaps the greatest German musician of the so-called Classical era. Again, performed flawlessly. The applause was greater this time, and the listeners flowed into a semi-circle around the performance area.

The Bagatelle in A minor, by Ludwig Beethoven, otherwise known as "Fur Elise," a lilting composition that sounded deceptively simple but in fact required more than a modicum of skill to play well. At its conclusion, the princess clapped furiously, obviously taken with the beauty of the piece.

And finally, Etude No. 12 in C minor, from Opus 10, by Frederic Chopin, usually called the "Revolutionary Etude." Marla paused for a long moment, as she always did before she played this one. Someone coughed in the silence, and Franz jumped. Finally, she raised her hands and attacked (the only word Franz could use) the keyboard. As with the very first time he heard it, he was astounded by the rolling arpeggios, the percussive chords, how the music seemed to emerge from chaos. He tore his eyes from Marla, and looked around. Everyone was transfixed by her electric performance of the piece. When the final chords were hammered home, the room rocked with wild applause, which Franz joined for a moment before slipping back up the wall and behind the dividers.

The amazing young woman stood at the end of the piece, and despite being in a gown, gave a bow to acknowledge the applause. After she walked behind the screen, there was a moment of quiet, then conversation erupted all over the room. Everyone who had a program was pointing at it, everyone who did not was either looking for one or was gesticulating in the air. They all seemed to understand the term Intermissio which lay between the piano and the voice music in the program. Some few of them had headed for the wine table with alacrity, and a few more were picking up the remaining tidbits from the buffet.

Girolamo turned to Il Prosperino. He said nothing; merely raised an eyebrow, as if to say, "I told you so."

Andrea nodded in response, acknowledging the point. "How soon can you make me a piano?"

Girolamo shrugged. "Perhaps a year."

"Why so long?" in a surprised tone.

"First, I must finish refurbishing the one I purchased, which is dedicated to a special patron. Despite what I have already learned, I will learn more by doing, which is a slow process. While that is going on, I must locate an iron foundry that can cast parts according to my specifications. Even more critically, I must find a reliable source of relatively fine gauge steel wire. Then, and only then, will I be able to begin crafting my own pianos." He thought for a moment. "I have a facility in Grantville, but I believe I will relocate to Magdeburg."

"You will not return to Rome?" Andrea eyed him with even more surprise.

"No. Even if the Casati family were to forgive my putting a sword through a son's shoulder, everything I have learned in the last few months tells me that the future is here," he waved his arm around, "here among these Germans."

Andrea shook his head.

"I mean it," insisted Girolamo. "You think what you have seen and heard tonight will not change our music?"

Josef and Rudolf joined hands with the others and said, "Do well," then slipped out the way Franz had come in. Franz, Marla, Isaac and Hermann looked at each other, no one wanting to say anything. Finally Franz laughed. "To quote our good friend Ingram Bledsoe, 'Knock 'em dead.' "

Franz turned Marla to face him, looked into her gleaming eyes. "Continue as you have begun. You have won them over, now seal it." He kissed her hands. "Go. They await you." She squeezed his hands and turned to follow Hermann.

Franz and Isaac slipped back down the wall behind the dividers, to emerge at the rear of the room and join their friends. The applause that greeted Marla resounded around them. The four of them stood together at the back, not able to see very well because many of the patrons were standing, but listening nonetheless.

Her butterflies were gone, Marla noticed. She was calm, now that she was finally getting to do what she had prepared all this time for, what she had always dreamed of. She turned her head to give a slight nod to Hermann. They began.

"Thy hand, Belinda…" The opening words of Dido's farewell recitative sounded in the room, and Mary closed her eyes and drank in the sound of that lovely voice. Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas had always been one of her favorite early operas, and the despairing recitative and aria where Dido realized that she had driven away her love and subsequently died never failed to grip her. It was a lovely choice by Marla, not just because it was from later in the seventeenth century and so would be easy for those present to relate to, but also because the classic story taken from Virgil's Aeneid was one that almost everyone in the room had heard before in many forms. Here was a fresh new form, and one of beauty, sung by one of the finest young sopranos she had ever heard.

"When I am laid, am laid in earth…" The aria began; Mary abandoned herself to the music, drifting with its rise and fall, until the final plaintive line, "Remember me, but oh, forget my fate."

The room was hushed. Someone at last broke the rapture and began to applaud. The room echoed with the sound for some time. Isaac and Rudolf nodded to the others before slipping back behind the screens to return to the head of the room. When the applause began to fade, they stepped out and joined Marla by the piano.

Hermann began an introduction, and soon Marla's voice was soaring again, this time with the beautiful melody of Mozart's "Laudate Dominum" from Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, K339. Mary remembered wondering if Marla knew what she was doing when the young woman told her that they were going to adapt this song, re-scoring the central section for a trio instead of a quartet. Now she didn't wonder, she just melted into the music and let that effortless soprano voice carry her along. Isaac's tenor and Rudolf's baritone added to the glory of it, but the solo ending, where Marla sang the final phrase, just was heavenly.

Once again the room was hushed. It took longer for someone to begin the applause this time, and it lasted longer. Marla, smiling, took a bow with both Isaac and Rudolf, and they exited.

The rest of the evening moved from one triumph to the next: "Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion" from Handel's Messiah was followed by "Senza Mamma" from Puccini's Suor Angelica. Each was received by great applause. Marla bowed, beaming.

Franz, knowing what was coming next, held his breath. If the audience would stumble over anything in the concert, it would be this piece. It had taken some little time to transpose it to a key that was at the same time low enough to retain some of the darkness of the original music, yet was high enough that Marla could sing it comfortably. They had finally achieved it two weeks ago, and Marla had diligently practiced it since then.

She opened her mouth, and sang.

"Wer reitet so spat durch Nacht und Wind?

Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;

Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,

Er fa?t ihn sicher, er halt ihn warm."

Franz could almost feel the temperature in the room drop as the opening verse of Goethe's poetry mated with Schubert's music in Der Erlkonig was revealed. The story of the father and son's ride home continued to unroll; shivers chased one another up his spine, and the hair on his neck began to bristle. Once again, Marla was bringing to a performance an indefinable something that he never heard during rehearsals. It was as if being in front of an audience raised her to a plane where her voice was a tool in the hands of God. He looked over at Isaac, to see him with his arms wrapped around himself. From the look on his face, he was feeling it too.

The song progressed. In each succeeding verse, the child grew more and more panicked at the sight of the pursuing Erlking, and the worried father tried to calm him, assuring him he was safe. The tension in the great room was building, more and more.

The last verse arrived, and Franz braced himself for the ending. Marla arrived at the final line, and declaimed:

"In seinen Armen das Kind…"

with a very pregnant pause, then

"war tot!"

Immediately applause broke out. Franz could see that this time it was led by none other than the very flamboyant gentleman standing with Signor Zenti. Whoever he was, he obviously liked that song, and to Franz's great relief was dragging everyone along with him. Marla was breathing deeply as she took her bow. Even after the applause died down she stood with her head down for several long breaths. Finally she straightened, smiled, and moved on to the penultimate section of the program.

Mary was almost wrung out at this point. Marla had so far delivered an absolutely bravura performance. She was so proud of the young woman, her protege in part. In the afterglow of the intensity of the Schubert, she finally admitted to herself that perhaps she was living a little vicariously through her young friend, but perhaps even more her relationship with Marla had helped to fill the void in her heart caused when she and John-no, to be honest, mostly just she-had driven their son away.

Looking at her copy of the program to refresh her memory of what was next, Mary saw that Marla had filled the twentieth-century section of the concert with songs from three musicals. She didn't object-they were, after all, from three of the most memorable productions done in the last twenty years before the Ring fell, and the selections that Marla had chosen were among the strongest. It would be interesting, however, she thought to herself, tapping her finger against her lips, to see how some of them would be received.

Marla sailed through the next few songs, almost breezing through them. "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita led the way. Isaac then joined her to do the duet "All I Ask of You," also from a Lloyd Webber work, The Phantom of the Opera.

They then moved on to selections from Les Miserables, by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer. Marla led off with Cosette's wistful "Castle on a Cloud." She then stepped back and took a rest while Isaac stepped forward and sang Valjean's pleading "Bring Him Home," which led to sustained applause, then followed it up with Marius' "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." His pure tenor voice rang with sorrow, grief and anger throughout the song, and at the end generated applause almost approaching that offered to Marla. Finally, Rudolf stepped out from behind the screen, and joined them in performing "Do You Hear the People Sing." The rousing conclusion of the song led to another round of sustained applause.

***

Franz moved to the wall as soon as the applause began, slipping behind the dividers until he reached the front of the room again. The final section of the program, entitled Christmas, was about to begin. Isaac and Rudolf each smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder for a moment as they moved past him on their way out. Once the applause began to wane, he took a deep breath, tugged on his jacket hem, picked up his violin and bow and checked that the newly-attached chin pad was still seated solidly. He softly tested the strings to see if the tuning had held, took another deep breath, and walked out to join Marla.

He took station at the end of the piano. She looked over from where she stood in front of the curve, melting his heart with one of her brilliant smiles, then nodded to Hermann to begin.

The introduction was short and soft, then Marla began to sing.

"Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!

Alles schlaft; einsam wacht

Nur das traute heilige Paar.

Holder Knab' im lockigen Haar,

Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!"

Marla's voice was so soft and warm that Franz got lost in it and almost forgot to raise his violin to play. He gave a swift prayer that he would play well as she began the second verse, tucked the violin between his chin and right collar, positioned the bow in his left hand over the strings, and began to play a descant over her melody.

Franz was unaware of the picture he presented to the audience. Their other friends had dressed in attire that was normal for musicians of the day: knee britches/culottes, waistcoats, long coats with large sleeve cuffs over it all, embroidery with brass thread that in the evening's light looked to be gold, and much lace at sleeve and collar openings.

In contrast, Franz was dressed in long trousers, much like the styles worn by the up-timers, such as Admiral Simpson. They were black velvet, and looked very well indeed. He had wanted a coat out of the same material, but the black was so costly and so difficult to acquire that his jacket had instead been made out of the same royal blue velvet of which Marla's dress was made. And it was a jacket; rather short-waisted, instead of the long-tailed coat that was the rule here and now. Marla in her Empire dress and he in his trousers, jacket and short hair presented to the audience a glimpse of the future. The portrait was most striking.

The descant repeated over the third verse, then Marla dropped out for an interlude. Franz played the verse melody solo over Hermann's soft accompaniment. He poured his heart into the simple music, letting his violin sing.

Once the interlude was over, Marla sang the next two verses with Franz's descant, but when the final verse began, both he and Hermann ceased playing, and Marla sang a capella.

"Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!

Hirten erst kundgemacht

Durch der Engel Alleluja,

Tont es laut bei Ferne und Nah:

Jesus der Retter ist da!

Jesus der Retter ist da!"

Marla held the last note for a moment longer than strictly called for, letting it resonate within the room. As it died away, the audience burst into applause. Franz gave a thankful prayer, and grinned in relief-he'd done it! He'd played his part, simple though it was, flawlessly. All of the challenges had been surpassed, all of the work had paid off, all of his fears had proved groundless. He now knew, without a doubt, he would once again be the musician he had been before the attack that crippled his left hand.

He looked to Marla and saw that brilliant smile again. She held out her hand to him. He stepped to her, joined hands, and they took a bow together. Then he stepped back once more and pointed to her, focusing everyone's attention on her, which let him escape. When he stepped behind the screen, Isaac, Josef and Rudolf all pounced on him, clapping his shoulder, pumping his hand, and hissing congratulations to him. He reveled in it for a moment, then hushed them as the applause out front began to die down. Gesturing to them that they should slip out again, he laid the violin and bow down, sat and leaned his head against the back of the wall. The final piece of the night was about to happen, and he didn't want to share that with anyone.

Hermann began the familiar introduction of the oh-so-beautiful Schubert song, and Franz was taken back in time twelve months, to last year's Christmas concert at the Methodist church in Grantville. This time, knowing what to expect, as soon as Marla began to sing, he was transported.

"Ave Maria!

Gratia plena, Maria,

Gratia plena, Maria,

Gratia plena.

Ave, Ave!

Dominus, Dominus tecum,

Benedicta tu in mulieribus,

Et benedictus,

Et benedictus fructus ventris,

Ventris tui, Jesus."

Hearing Marla sing, it was as if Franz was lifted out of his body. Even more than last year, he felt that he stood before the very throne of God, hearing what could only be described as the voice of an angel. Tears ran down his face. If this was what Mary had heard so many, many years ago, then she was indeed blessed among women. After what seemed to be an eternity, the song came to an end as Marla sang the final Ave Maria! and Hermann finished the last few measures of accompaniment.

If the earlier hushes in the hall had been notable, what followed now was nothing less than remarkable. For the longest time, there was no sound: no applause, no movement, no coughing, no rustling-nothing. Franz began to worry and stood to put his eye against the crack between the dividers to see what was going on. Just as he did so, he saw one of the seated nobles stand to his feet and begin applauding. Within a moment, everyone in the room had followed suit. The storm of applause that followed seemed to have the walls of the hall bulging. He even thought he heard some muted cheering.

Franz stepped back and looked past the end of the screen, to see Marla giving bow after bow and motioning for Hermann to stand and take a bow. Recalling what his next responsibility was, Franz wiped his face and scrambled around behind the chair to find the long package that he had secreted there earlier. He unwrapped it and smiled at the bright colors. About to walk out from behind the screen, he stopped short and felt in the pocket of his jacket. Finding the expected lump, he squared his shoulders, and stepped out.

The applause seemed to be almost a physical force once he was out from behind the screen. He walked over to Marla, and as she turned to him he presented her with what appeared to be a long stemmed rose. She stared at it in amazement-December was not a month to expect roses, especially in Magdeburg-but reached out and took it anyway. Once her fingers touched it, she began to laugh, as Franz's little joke was revealed. Unable to find flowers, he had found a brass smith who had created him a rose in brass, which he had then enameled in the red and green of a true rose. She turned and lifted the "rose" above her head. The audience's laughter joined hers, even as they continued to applaud.

Mary watched, tears in her eyes, clapping and whistling for all she was worth as Marla acknowledged the applause of the elite audience. Her protege's career was well-founded now, even assured, with this reception.

Just then Franz dropped to one knee, and Mary had to be very stern with herself to keep from laughing or cheering. The applause died away as everyone wondered what would occur next. Those behind the front rows craned to see. Franz took Marla's left hand in his, reached into his pocket and removed something that he slipped on her ring finger. Marla gasped, and would have dropped her "rose" if Hermann had not come up behind her and taken it from her. She pressed her right hand against her mouth, staring at the ring on her hand. Those in the front row were close enough to see the tears that began to roll down her flushed cheeks. Cheers erupted from the back of the room as she reached down and pulled Franz to his feet, only to then engulf him in a fierce embrace and a most passionate kiss, right there in front of the princess, who was grinning and clapping again.

"I think he got it right," Mary said to no one in particular.

Finally all the noise died down, and Marla and Franz slowly circled the room, accepting compliments and congratulations from all. Marla was bearing her "rose" as if it were a scepter, which it perhaps was on this evening of triumph. Mary was close enough to hear the conversation when two Italian gentlemen finally approached.

"Signora Linder," Girolamo Zenti began, obviously moved, "I have not the words in English to compliment you as you deserve. I do not have the words even in l'Italiano to say it. Semplicemente magnifica. Belissima."

He stopped, obviously at a loss, only to be nudged by his companion. "Introduce me, lout," was hissed at him, and he jerked.

"Perdonarme, Signorina Linder," he said. "May I present to you Signor Andrea Abati of Rome, a most well known singer and famous musician, an acquaintance of both myself and Maestro Carissimi."

Abati elbowed him aside, almost rudely, only to say expansively, "Signorina, I congratulate you on your magnificent performance." Marla blinked at hearing a soprano as clear as her own coming from what appeared to be a man. "I have been singing for twenty-four years now as un gentilhuomo, and tonight I have heard that which, for the first time, made me wish that I had been born a woman. You were not, perhaps, perfect," Marla's eyes started to cloud over, and Franz began to bristle. The Italian hurried on to say, "But, only one of great experience, such as myself," theatrically laying a hand on his breast, "could possibly have noticed the tiny flaws." He took her hand in his, and smiled, "No, signorina, as I understand, this was your first concert such as this, and it was remarkable." He placed a hand over his breast again, and bowed to her. Marla's expression eased, and Franz stepped back.

"Now," Abati exclaimed, "Girolamo, you must help me find quarters here in Magdeburg. I will be staying for some time."

"But… but Andrea," the other man stuttered, "what of your trip to Brandenburg? What of the fees and acclaim you would earn?"

"Bah! Mere money, mere noise!" Abati drew himself up, flung a hand in Marla's direction. "Here, here is art! What is more, it is new art, art that I, Il Prosperino, will become a part of, will take to new heights. Here is new music I must learn, here are deserving pupils I can teach." He abandoned his theatrical posture, and laid a hand on Zenti's shoulder. "After all, Girolamo," he said in that disconcerting soprano tone, "you were the one who told me that the future of music was here in Germany. After tonight, I believe you, and I would be a part of it."

The two Italians made their farewells and walked off together, talking volubly and, on the part of Abati, gesturing flamboyantly.

Mary stepped up to the couple and took both their hands. "Well done, both of you."

"Thank you," Marla replied. She was beginning to droop a little as the adrenaline of the evening drained from her, but her smile was still the brilliant light that Franz loved. Franz said nothing, just nodded.

"Now," Mary said, "you have a taste of what the future could be. Do you still want it?"

Marla looked over at Franz. They both smiled and joined hands. "Now more than ever."

Ellis Island

Russ Rittgers

"Jeez, but it's cold out here," Wade Threlkeld said to Elizabeth Biermann, flapping his arms and stomping his feet next to the large bonfire that late January 1632 night. Their week-long assignment was to keep the fire in this mountain pass large so that all travelers coming to Grantville from outside would be attracted to it. Once there, they would be put into the old barn, fed and then held until one of the immigration medical staff could check them over. A few small bouts with typhus and now the entire community was wary of newcomers until they'd been cleared.

"Ja, but at least we have the fire," she confirmed, secure in her unbelievably warm army clothes and well-made insulated boots. Small and dark, her face was cold but her hands and feet stayed warm as long as she kept using them. The small family who'd come shortly after dark last night was only the third set of "immigrants" they'd seen this week.

"You know what this place is?" Wade asked.

"Ja. It is your Ellis Island. You tell me this every day," she grumbled. Ellis Island, the Gateway to America before the Ring of Fire. The Island of Tears as well because ten percent of the people who'd made it that far were sent back to their country of origin, mostly for medical reasons, Wade had told her. Fortunately, that didn't happen here. But they could be quarantined until their health cleared.

Elizabeth hadn't needed to worry about that. She'd been christened Elzhbieta Piwowska, one of the camp followers at the Battle of the Crapper six months earlier. When she'd gotten the opportunity to join the army, she had, changing her name to one which had about the same meaning and whose sound was comfortable in the mouth of Americans. She'd known and respected Gretchen, but Julie Sims was her role model. Vibrant, athletic and a dead shot.

Elizabeth had a lot of men she'd like to touch on the opposing side of a battlefield. Yes, reach out and touch a few mercenaries from a couple hundred yards away. Touching as in removing his brains from his head. Or better yet, a couple feet lower. She knew she'd never find the ones responsible for killing the rest of her family and raping her four years ago, but she'd take substitutes. She'd very reluctantly become a camp follower to a different group of mercenaries. One of them had lost her in a card game to Adam a year ago. Of course, what was left of Adam was now fertilizing a field outside Bamburg, she thought with quiet satisfaction.

Father Mazzare said it was not healthy to dwell on the past. Nor was it healthy to plan your future around making someone else's death. So each time she went to confession, she told him of her sins and he gave her penance. She wouldn't think along those lines again until she next picked up her rifle. Her smooth, sleek, steel-barreled rifle, capable of… Stop, she thought. You can't even remember their faces anymore. A moment later she looked away from the fire and into the darkness, imagining looking down the sights from a concealed position at some oncoming mercenaries… Line up the shot, breathe smoothly, slowly and squeeze…

"Hey, Lizbeth," Wade interrupted her fantasy. "Where did you say that last family was from?"

Elizabeth wasn't out here on a mountain pass next to a huge fire because she was a good shot. She was here because she could speak four different German dialects as well as Polish. "From a town called Lositz. The Swedes, mercenaries, they claim, burned their town before Christmas and they've been traveling from town to town since then. When they heard there was food and jobs in Grantville, they took a chance and went through the mountains. As usual, they have nothing but needs," she bitterly commented, her mouth tight. It wasn't a new story. Only the point of origin and the destroying army had changed.

"Lighten up, Lizbeth. I haven't seen a single one coming through the pass who was a, a mercenary or b, someone who wanted to just sit on his butt. Lots of solid citizens in the making."

"Hmpf," she grumped. "Increase the fire," she told the younger soldier. That he'd actually do it came as a revelation four weeks ago. They were both privates, he a 1631 graduate from Grantville High, technically senior to her. She, well, she was three years older than him. Back in the old days… She shook her head and smiled as she watched him. America has it better.

Wade threw four more chunks of dry split wood on the fire. "Don't think we're going to get any more business tonight," he said, taking off his gloves to warm his hands directly on the fire.

Elizabeth walked away from the fire in the moonlight to the edge of the clearing and looked to the south at the white snow. Had there been a dark spot to the left of those trees earlier? "Wade, komm hier!"

"Papa, I'm cold," Drina complained, her six year-old hands, feet and legs bundled in pieces of an old blanket sewn together. Her teeth were chattering as she followed her father and older brother on the trail they'd broken through the snow.

Three weeks ago her mother had died of illness in the village where they lived. It had taken Drina's papa two days to dig her grave. That night he told Joshua and her that the next day they were leaving the farm and going to find somewhere to live, somewhere the soldiers would not find them. Somewhere the memories would not hurt.

So, with all the possessions they could carry on their backs, the family began moving carefully. They rarely traveled by the day even if it was warmer, reasoning that soldiers would be able to see them from a distance and at night, they would see the soldiers' campfires and avoid them. But mostly they traveled the trails high in the Thuringian forest.

"We're all cold, Drina," her eleven-year-old brother briefly turned his head to say. Joshua wore an old coat of his father's covering his own clothing and like Drina, his hands were covered by mittens sewn together by his father two weeks ago. Also like her, he had outer trousers made from old woolen blankets.

"Quiet, you two," Papa said, breaking the trail in the snow between the trees. "There are real wolves out here who'd like nothing better than to eat you. Not to mention the human wolves who are even worse."

That was as much as Papa had said at one time while walking on the trail in the past two days, Drina thought. He was stumbling and was leaning on Joshua more and more often. They'd ground, boiled and eaten the last of their wheat a week ago. Before stopping each day, they set snares to catch rabbits and twice they had. They boiled it up with some grass and herbs in the small pot Papa carried. The last was three days ago and since then they had passed by two devastated villages.

Papa had gone down into the villages looking for food, coming back empty-handed the first time and with a freshly killed dog yesterday morning. "It's food," he said briefly, silencing any opposition. "It had been tied up. It was starving but still alive. Better than the pigs the wolves fed on." Drina didn't understand but Joshua shuddered.

"Did I tell you about Grantville?" Papa asked for the third time today, picking up Drina for a moment as Joshua took the lead. "I heard all about it when we were at that town a little over a week ago. The one where the bad man wanted to touch you, Drina."

He'd only put his hand on her shoulder but she'd cried out immediately. Papa turned quickly and hit the man with his shovel. She didn't know why the man had touched her but he shouldn't have. That's why they left that town.

"People in that town claimed that Grantville, no, it's not a French town, was populated by witches and wizards. Then I talked to a man from there who called himself an American. Grantville is filled with magic, he said, the good kind. Lights everywhere, machines that do the work of hundreds, all at your fingertips. Even carriages that didn't need horses. I asked about the streets of silver and he just laughed. Not silver, just black tar with stones in it. He said the people there are just like everyone else but each and every one went to school for ten or twelve years! They were all older than Joshua when they stopped, he said. Can you imagine? And it doesn't matter what your religion is, Catholic, Protestant or Jew, he said. All are equally welcome. That's where we're going."

Papa put Drina down again. "Come on, we've got to catch up with Joshua," he said, taking her hand. "Grantville can't be far now. Probably just on the other side of that pass."

Half an hour later Drina stumbled in the darkness and would have fallen if Papa hadn't grabbed her. "Just a little farther, darling. It's bound to be just over there. All we have to do is go up this pass and then down. Then you'll be warm and fed. Just a little farther," Papa said, breathing heavily in the cold mountain air.

Shortly after that, Papa stumbled and fell. "Papa!" Joshua looked back to see his father come slowly to his hands and knees, Drina standing next to him.

"Look, Papa," Joshua came back to him. "It's just over the hill. Not much farther now," he desperately urged. But Papa was slow to rise. The moon was out now and Joshua could see the hollows in his father's bearded cheeks. Suddenly he felt guilty for having taken that last piece of boiled dog. He knew it had been Papa's but he'd been so hungry.

"I'm exhausted, Joshua." Papa spoke slowly with great effort. "We'll stop here for the night. Build a back wall before we make a fire. It'll help hide the light from any soldiers. We'll sleep until afternoon and then go through the pass. Grantville has to be on the other side."

"But Papa, we don't have any food to eat," Joshua protested. "You'll just be weaker when you wake up."

"I'll be weaker but I'll be rested. So will your sister. We'll make it easily tomorrow," Papa answered, not really seeing him. "Go to the top of the pass and find Grantville. There will be lights, many bright lights, far more than any town or village you can imagine. The people, men and women will be happy to see us and we'll be safe. Go, Joshua and I'll keep your sister warm inside my arms."

Joshua knelt down, hugged and kissed his sister before rising and kissing his father on the cheeks. "I'll be back soon, I promise." His father hugged him and then turned to begin building a bank for shelter and to reflect the heat of the fire.

The boy looked toward the pass and, using the hoe as his hiking stick, steadily began moving forward.

"Found him passed out and he looks half-starved. Hope he doesn't have bad frostbite." Wade had carried the burden on his shoulder into the small cabin heated by a pot-bellied stove. He rolled the boy down onto one of the two bare cots. It wasn't the first time he'd brought in people unable to take the last few steps.

"This one looks much more than half-starved," Elizabeth grunted. "Here, let me see if he will take a little of this warm broth. Come on, open your lips and let this warm you up inside," she crooned in German, putting the spoon to his mouth. The boy's lips twitched and unconsciously sucked in the nourishment.

"Mama," he muttered.

"Not quite. But with a lot of rest and feeding up you'll probably live."

"Ever the optimist, aren't you, Lizbeth?" Wade looked over her shoulder at the boy.

The boy's eyes popped open. "Papa, Drina! Where are they?"

"Shit!" Elizabeth muttered in English. "He has family out there." Then switching to German, "This man behind me and I will find them and bring them here. Is it just the two of them or are more with you?"

"No, only two. Only Papa and Drina." He struggled to get up but Elizabeth stopped him with a hand on his thin chest. "We will find them and bring them here. You drink this broth and rest. We will bring them."

"Is Grantville?" the boy asked, looking around the small room.

"This is Grantville," Wade responded. "The city is not far. We will find your family. We will bring them here."

"Grantville." He sighed and laid back, relaxing into a sleep.

"If he was the strongest, God help his father and sister," Elizabeth said, quickly dipping broth from the kettle into an insulated flask. "We will follow his trail back. Put on snowshoes and grab some blankets."

"Teach your grandma to suck eggs," Wade muttered inaudibly as he strapped on snowshoes. Damn bossy women! Only reason he…

It was midmorning when the light shining through the single window in the small cabin hit Joshua's eyelids and woke him. Drina's small dark head was visible in the cot opposite his.

"Awake, are you?" Elizabeth's feet were propped up and her chair tipped back in the corner of the room where she'd been dozing. She'd kept watch outside alone from midnight until dawn while Wade slept. Now Wade was on watch. She pushed a chamber pot towards Joshua with her boot. "Use this or go outside. Doesn't matter much up here but down in the city, well, you'll see the difference."

"But where's Papa?"

Elizabeth sighed and shook her head. "He didn't make it. We found your sister wrapped in his arms and the blanket that should have gone around both of them was doubled across her. It was a very loving thing he did for her. Just for the record, what was his name?"

"Moses. Moses Amramsohn," Joshua answered and began sobbing.

Two days later, the sky was a bright blue and the morning sun reflected off the snow into Wade's eyes. He stood with his arms folded next to the much shorter Elizabeth as they watched Joshua and Drina walk with the medic down the hill. "The folks at the synagogue will take them in."

Wade took a breath and put his arm over her shoulders. "Going to America wasn't always easy," he slowly began. "Back when I was growing up you'd see reports of Haitians drowning, trying to cross a few miles of ocean to get to America. Chinese dying in cargo containers and Mexicans dying of thirst in the desert, all for the chance of a better life, mostly for their kids. The first generation of people coming in illegally generally had it really hard."