/ Language: English / Genre:sf_history

1635:The Dreeson Incident

Eric Flint


1635:The Dreeson Incident

Eric Flint

Virginia DeMarce

PROLOGUE

August 1634

Magdeburg

United States of Europe

Don Francisco Nasi, spymaster for the United States of Europe, pushed his glasses up his nose. "Michel Ducos moved on quickly, even before Peter Appel notified the Frankfurt authorities. He'd been gone a couple of days before they got the news to me. We can't just move in and arrest his lieutenant Guillaume Locquifier. Partly because then we'd lose the trail, but jurisdictionally because the crime didn't happen on USE soil and we don't have an 'arrest on sight and extradite' from the Papal States. It's better just to keep Locquifier under surveillance. Frankfurt says that he isn't doing anything active right now-just huddling in the back parlor of an inn with a few other men."

Ed Piazza scowled. Once a high school principal in Grantville, he was now the president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. The SoTF, whose capital was Grantville, was one of the largest and most populous provinces of the United States of Europe. Ed was in Magdeburg for a few days consulting with Mike Stearns, the Prime Minister of the USE. "It's your call, I guess. Personally, I'd be happier if they were in jail, considering that mess at the Galileo hearing."

Sitting behind his desk not far away, Mike Stearns shrugged. "Mazarini cleaned up the mess around the assassination attempt on the pope very efficiently. Politically speaking, I mean-he didn't wash the blood off the floor of the church or dig the bullets out of the plaster himself, of course. Frank, Ron and Gerry Stone were all in big trouble right after the assassination attempt and things could have turned out a lot worse if he hadn't put in the fix."

"Nevertheless," said Nasi, "once they realized that Ducos was not really a member of the Committees of Correspondence, but had been using them for his own purposes, the Stone boys acted decisively. The assassination might very well have succeeded had it not been for them. Therefore they interest me."

"Tom Stone told me that his son Frank and his new wife Giovanna are staying in Venice," added Mike. "Frank's going to keep working with the Committee of Correspondence there. Maybe try to develop some in other places in Italy. In the Italies, I should say. It's as bad as 'the Germanies.' A patchwork of little duchies and principalities, the Papal States in the middle and the Spanish in the south in Naples."

Piazza shook his head. "Where's Garibaldi when we need him?"

"Not born yet. Never will be, in this universe," Nasi said practically.

"Tom and Magda are staying in Italy, too. His lectures at the Padua medical school are really catching on, and she's done very well negotiating the purchase of a lot of things we need for industrial development in the USE. But Tom's other two sons, Ron and Gerry, are coming back to Grantville when Simon Jones does. They're traveling with him and with the mother of Jabe McDougal's girlfriend. The painter. Artemisia Gentileschi. The mother, I mean-not the girlfriend."

Nasi smiled and looked at Ed. "I would appreciate an opportunity to speak with Signora Gentileschi, should one arise. She has been living in Naples, working for the Spanish. Her father is in England. She has ties to both the Barberini and the Tuscan court in Florence. Let me know when they get to Grantville. If she isn't coming to Magdeburg, I believe such a conversation would be worth my while, even if I need to make the trip to Grantville to have it. Jabe goes back and forth, I believe."

"Will do. I'll radio you as soon as she shows up. What about the boys?"

"How old are they, exactly?"

"Ron graduated from high school in 1633 on the accelerated program, right before they all left for Venice. He'd turned seventeen in December, so that would make him eighteen, now. Eighteen and a half. Gerry…" Piazza stopped and thought a minute. "He should be turning sixteen this month. Gus Heinzerling was supposed to be tutoring him while they were in Venice, so he didn't fall behind. But I'm told that he's not coming back to high school in Grantville. He's decided to finish up at the boys' school in Rudolstadt. I'm not sure why. But if they're willing to admit him over there, it means that Gus really did keep his nose to the grindstone, at least as far as Latin was concerned."

"Too young for my work, and he will be too busy. Gerry, that is," Nasi said. "Would the older one have anything to contribute?"

"You can debrief him, of course. If he's willing to talk to you. He's a legal adult, so he can make his own decision on that. Tom Stone's always been a little… anti-authoritarian. More than a little. Magda's a straight arrow, though, and she has that incredible Lutheran sense of duty. Well, she grew up in Jena, with all those theology professors in the town. She's been their stepmother for close to three years now, and they like her. So maybe… I can't make any promises on his behalf."

Nasi dug into his briefcase and drew out a sheaf of papers. "He submitted a written report to me. Voluntarily, sent in the diplomatic pouch from Venice. Detailing all of their contacts with Michel Ducos while he was posing as a member of the Venice Committee of Correspondence. It's retrospective, of course. Written with all the benefits of hindsight. He does not spare himself or his brothers. Perhaps, he is even too harsh in his judgment of them. We sent them out with very little training and with no expectation that they would encounter the developments that occurred. Bedmar, d'Avaux, Ducos. The boys were, as your baseball commentators would say, 'way out of their league.' But, the self-condemnation aside, his analysis of what happened is certainly competent. More than competent."

"Tom and Magda seem to agree with you," said Mike. "On the competence issue, that is. Karl Juergen Edelman will stay available for consultation-Magda's father has a keenly honed sense about the importance of following the money-but he has his own businesses to run and he's tired of being on the train between Jena and Grantville every week and sometimes twice a week. So Ron's going to be managing Lothlorien for them when he gets back. Not just the Farbenwerke, but the pharmaceuticals end of it, too."

Piazza nodded. "I'll keep an eye on him."

Padua

"Signora Gentileschi and her daughter arrived from Rome last night," the doorman reported. "They send a message that they are prepared to leave for Grantville as soon as the rest of you can pack up. Unless there is some delay here, they do not plan to unpack more than they will need for a night or two."

Simon Jones stood up, taking the note from the porter's hand. "Please let them know that all I still have to do is put the clothes I wore yesterday into my saddlebags. The rest of the stuff is ready for the men to put on the pack horses any time."

Magda smiled. "I think the boys are ready, too. More than ready."

The doorman bowed slightly and backed out of the room. They'd never been able to break him of that habit.

Simon looked at the note again and frowned. "Sometimes I wish that Larry and Gus hadn't had to stay in Rome. Who's Joachim Sandrart, and why is he with the Gentileschis? Why is he traveling with us, that is?"

Magda shrugged.

"Who would know?" Simon frowned. "If he's someone who could be a problem, I should warn Ron and Gerry to keep their lips zipped when he's around."

"Signora Gentileschi is an artist. Perhaps he is another one. An. .. associate?"

Simon had no trouble interpreting Magda's disapproving tone. Cardinal Antonio Barberini, by way of Mazzare, had warned them. By the standards of a respectable Lutheran from Jena, Artemisia Gentileschi's past was as colorful as her canvases. It was by no means certain that her younger daughter, the one she was bringing with her, was the child of her husband.

"Not a lover, probably, if you're worried about bad influences on the boys. This," Simon waved the note in the air, "says he's in his twenties. She's fortyish and the little girl she has with her is only ten or eleven, I think. Probably some ambitious young artist who's finished putting in his practically mandatory time in Italy and is ready to go home and launch himself into a hopefully lucrative career of putting paint on canvas."

Magda snorted. "I will ask someone. I do have responsibilities, after all."

Lausanne

Switzerland

Duke Henri de Rohan put down his pen. He had finished today's letter to his brother Benjamin in England, but hadn't signed it yet, in case something else came to mind. He re-read. After his assassination attempt on the Pope was foiled, Michel Ducos was last seen escaping by boat down the Tiber, presumably to take ship from Ostia. I predict that he will not go back to d'Avaux. In any case, Mazarini is ensuring that d'Avaux will have only minimal chances to foment mischief in the future. I am afraid that Ducos has become the head of a small group of unpredictable fanatics. Keep an eye out in England for any sign of him and his followers. Though, of course, he may be headed for Holland. Or Scotland. Or…

He picked up the pen again. I am also writing to our agent in Frankfurt am Main. If necessary, please be prepared to make a rapid trip to Frankfurt. You should find the burden of this bearable, since to a considerable extent our associates there are also members of a network of international wine merchants. He paused a moment, then signed his name.

The duke moved on, to finish his outgoing correspondence for the day. Happily, his new assignment from Venice, attempting to reconcile the feuding Swiss cantons, significantly reduced the time it took for his letters to reach their destinations. Instructions for his wife in France; a shorter note to his father-in-law, also in France; one to his brother Benjamin, in care of Isaac de Ron in Frankfurt; a letter to Hugo Grotius, another to the mathematician Descartes. One to the city council of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, which was dithering about whether or not to renew his employment contract.

And one to Cardinal Richelieu, assuring him, with the monotonous regularity he brought to such reassurances, that he remained a loyal and faithful subject of the French monarchy.

The duke missed his long and faithful correspondence with his mother, who had died three years earlier. If he was not concentrating, Rohan often still found himself thinking that he should mention something to her.

Now, a letter to his daughter Marguerite, in France with her mother. Marguerite had been born almost fifteen years after the wedding and was now seventeen years old. Of the nine children of his marriage, only she had survived. When he finished it, he started to put down his pen and then picked it up again.

One to Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. After Bernhard's successes this summer, it was time to consider the possibility that he might make a suitable son-in-law. He was thirty. It was time for him to be getting married. Marguerite had the splendid advantage that she was already old enough to bear children and still young enough to bear a lot of children, God willing.

The Austrians would probably try to pick Bernhard off with some minor Habsburg bride, of course, to protect their interests in Vorarlberg and the other territories dotted across southern Swabia to the Breisgau. But it would be a terrible pity, in Rohan's opinion, to waste a successful Protestant prince on a Catholic wife.

True, Bernhard was Lutheran, not Calvinist as was the duke himself. But Lutherans counted as Protestants, at least from the political perspective, the same way that members of the Church of England did. If not, quite, theologically. After all, the Lion of the North himself was a Lutheran. German-language Catholic popular pamphleteers, an imprecise group of people sadly lacking in perception where the nuances of doctrinal distinction among their opponents were concerned, tended to refer even to Calvinists and Anabaptists as Lutheraner.

Even the city council of Venice had been known to refer to Duke Henri de Rohan himself as a "Lutheran." The most prominent Huguenot in contemporary France shuddered slightly at such a lack of theological precision.

A match between Marguerite and Bernhard would not make King Louis XIII of France and Cardinal Richelieu at all happy, of course. But then neither would a match between Marguerite and young Turenne, which was also an attractive possibility. The only thing that would make Louis and Richelieu happy would be for Marguerite to convert to Catholicism and marry one of Richelieu's relatives.

Which wasn't going to happen. At least not as long as Henri de Rohan was alive.

Then he wrote directly to Isaac de Ron in Frankfurt, telling him to expect the arrival of Henri's brother Benjamin (letter to him enclosed) from England any day now.

Please take out a lease on a suitable town house and have it furnished and staffed with reliable people by the time he arrives, charging the cost to my account with the banker Milkau.

Benjamin liked his comforts. He accomplished more when he was comfortable.

Now for the inbox. On top of it, the latest report from Leopold Cavriani. A delightful man. He'd had a really fascinating summer. Leopold did not suffer from the constraints that were an inevitable part of having been born into the high nobility.

Occasionally, Henri de Rohan envied him.

But only occasionally.

Somewhere in Switzerland

"If he pontificates at me one more time," Ron Stone said, "I think I'll gag. I don't see how Gerry can stand to listen. Hour after hour, after hour."

"Your brother isn't listening, really. He's just… not bothering to avoid Joachim." Artemisia Gentileschi smiled patiently.

"How much more do we need to know about him? Hell, we already know more than enough." Ron grabbed onto the reins with one hand and waved the other in the air. "Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, jabber, pontificate, talk some more. We've already heard that he was born in Frankfurt, that his family are Calvinists who fled from the Spanish Netherlands because of religious persecution, that he apprenticed with Soreau and Stoskopff in Hanau and can't face a future limited to still-lifes so he'll probably have to work for Catholic patrons mostly, that he learned print making in Nurnberg, that the engraver he worked for in Prague advised him to specialize in painting, that he learned to paint from Gerard van Honthorst in Utrecht, that he toured Holland with Pieter Paul Rubens, that he worked at the English court for a while with Honthorst, that he has not only seen Florence, Rome, and Naples, but also Messina and Malta, that he thinks the war has ruined the career prospects of most German artists, that…" He stopped. "If I hear one more word about the trials, troubles, and travails of the 'Frankenthal exiles,' I think I'll spit. What's worse, the guy talks in capital letters." He groaned with disgust.

Simon Jones, riding on his other side, laughed out loud. Joachim Sandrart did talk in capital letters. He didn't speak, he orated.

He was doing it now.

"Time and again Queen Germania has seen her Palaces and Churches, decorated with splendid Painting, go up in Flames, and her Eyes are so darkened with Smoke and Weeping that she no longer has the Desire or the Strength to pay Heed to this Art: Art that now seems to want only to enter into a long and eternal Night and there to sleep. Perhaps a man may find a short Contract with one Ruler. But as the Scene of War moves, so, perforce, does he, leaving his Efforts unfinished. And so such Things fall into Oblivion, and those that make Art their Profession fall into Poverty and Contempt. They put away their Palettes and Easels. They must take up the Pike, the Sword, or the Beggar's Staff instead of the Paintbrush, while the Gently Born are ashamed to apprentice their Children to such despicable Persons."

Are you planning to do anything about it, man? Ron thought sourly. Like maybe try to end the war? Or do you just plan to complain and complain and complain?

"Gently born?" Ron asked Artemisia Gentileschi. "Is the guy noble?"

"No." She twisted her lips. "Joachim is far more gently born than I, to be sure. The family was Walloon, certainly one of the more prominent commoner lineages in Hainaut. His father was-is, if he is still alive, but I haven't heard recently-a merchant. Very wealthy, but still a merchant. His mother was from a merchant family, also. Joachim's a cousin of Michel le Blon. Still, even in Frankfurt Laurentius Sandrart achieved some status. Certainly among the Walloons, if not among the native-born. Even though he was an immigrant into a city where the Lutheran council does not precisely make Calvinists welcome-they refused to grant permanent resident to Sebastian Stoskopff, which is why he went to Paris when he left Hanau.

"However, I'm sure that Joachim would not object if, some time in the future, a ruler chose to ennoble him for his many services to the cause of Art. Services which he has yet to perform, though I don't really doubt that he is capable of performing them. If he hadn't decided to return with me, Count Vincenzo Giustiniani in Rome had made him a very generous offer to manage his collection. So he should do well as an art dealer and promoter, at least, even if his own canvases do not display an immense amount of promise. Merely a high level of workmanlike competence. Both of my brothers, after all, have made their way quite successfully as dealers and agents. As has Hainhofer in Augsburg. The art world needs its intermediaries.

"Nor, I'm sure, would Joachim object if a ruler who employs him as a painter should also choose to utilize him as a diplomat, as the rulers of the Spanish Netherlands have done with Rubens. Everybody knows that his cousin le Blon-he's an engraver and goldsmith, a good twenty years older than Joachim, I think-operates out of Amsterdam as an agent for Oxenstierna." Artemisia frowned. "Of course, le Blon is a religious nut, too, quite taken with the writings of that Silesian, Jacob Bohme. Just because a man is successful in one field, it doesn't necessarily that he has common sense in any other.

"Joachim is an ambitious man. He is unlikely to become as great an artist as Rubens, but he doesn't lack high aspirations."

Grantville

"Denise!"

There were several Denises in town. She kept going.

"Denise Beasley, hey there!"

She slowed down, then stopped her motorcycle. Someone was running after her.

"Denise, if you're going downtown, can you give me a lift? Drop me off at the middle school. I'm going to be late for practice." It was Missy Jenkins, who worked in the "State Library" part of the libraries housed in the high school these days.

"What are you practicing?"

"I'm not. I'm coaching recreation league girls' soccer. I don't usually mind the run; it's only a couple of miles and good for me. But we had a VIP tour this afternoon and I got away a half hour after I should have."

"Sure. Climb on behind."

Missy did. "There are days that I would give my eyeteeth to be able to ride one of these. If I had one, that is."

Denise was a little surprised. "Compared to horses?" A lot of the girls her own age were totally horse crazy. A lot of the older ones, too, for that matter.

"Horses don't speak to me," Missy said.

"I can see that. Horses don't speak to me, either. I don't speak to them, if I can avoid it. Do you mind if we stop at the funeral home first, for a second? I'll take you all over and get you there on time."

"No problem. But why?"

"Minnie Hugelmair garages her cycle there, behind the hearse. It's more secure than the old shed behind Benny's house. They had a few problems. Some vandalism and at least once somebody tried to break in and steal it, we think. At the funeral home, there's always someone up and around, every day, all around the clock. It's safer, and Jenny doesn't charge much."

They headed down Route 250 in silence.

Until Missy, the wind whipping through her hair since she didn't have a helmet, asked, "Would you teach me to ride this thing? We could figure out the costs of the lessons. Your time, the fuel, wear and tear, all that."

Joe Pallavicino sat in the principal's office at the middle school, cleaning his fingernails while he waited to talk to Archie Clinter about their common problems. Denise Beasley had gone on to high school this fall. There had already, less than a month into the academic year, been trouble in regard to a boy who tried to hit on her after she told him to beat it. Senior on freshman. He'd recover.

It looked like Minnie Hugelmair would probably finish sixth grade by Thanksgiving, according to Tina Sebastian. By spring, at this rate, she would get her eighth grade diploma-earlier, if she tested out. Then, if she went to summer school and Denise didn't, she'd finish ninth grade in August of '35 and they'd both be sophomores the fall of 1636. In the class of '38.

There was no question that Minnie did her own school work. She wasn't in ESOL at all any more. She seemed to regard textbooks as obstacles on a course she was running and scaled them with determination.

There was no question that she still attracted trouble like a magnet.

Especially…

Especially given the increasing level of "anti-Kraut" muttering here and there around Grantville. Considering that she was still best friends with Denise Beasley. Considering that Denise's uncle Ken owned the 250 Club, which was the center of most of the muttering.

High school was one of the ages that started a lot of the trouble, with up-time and down-time boys competing for the attention of the same girls.

Minnie was not a beauty. She probably hadn't been before the riot in Jena. With the addition of the scar and the slightly mismatched artificial eye, she never would be.

But Denise was. She always would be. At the age of ninety, if she lived that long. Somehow, she managed to combine her mother Christin's delicate build and brunette vividness with Buster's sheer vigor. Trouble also, if a different kind of trouble. With Minnie there to take her part, next year. And there were too many up-time kids who would classify any retaliation by Minnie as "Kraut trouble."

Minnie wasn't likely to be as gentle as Denise herself had been. Denise never did more than was necessary to make her point.

Of course, any boy who wasn't a total idiot knew that she would, in a pinch, call on her father for backup. Buster Beasley was an ex-biker whose seventeen-inch biceps were only partly obscured by the tattoos that covered them. He constituted significant backup for a girl.

Some boys, on the other hand, were total idiots.

Joe decided he'd better talk to a few people besides Archie. Benny and Buster. Preston Richards at the police department. Lisa Dailey and Vic Saluzzo at the high school. Henry Dreeson and Enoch Wiley. Mary Ellen Jones, maybe. If they had some lead time, maybe they could arrange things so that Denise and Minnie could finish high school without triggering some kind of mudslide.

***

Words and music came wafting up the high school corridor.

"You know," Victor Saluzzo said, leaning against the library circulation desk. "I could have lived my life a lot more happily if Benny Pierce hadn't decided to teach Minnie Hugelmair that old turkey of a song and she hadn't spread it to our incoming freshmen."

"School days, school days,

Dear old Golden Rule days.

Reading and writing and 'rithmetic,

Taught to the tune of a hickory stick…"

Missy Jenkins giggled. She was there on temporary loan from the state library for a couple of weeks while the school went through the agonies of starting a new semester. "I hope you know that Minnie herself has every intention of finishing sixth grade the first semester and showing up on your doorstep before Christmas."

Pam Hardesty, also on loan from the state library, grinned. "Then you'll have both of them, Victor. Not just Denise, but Minnie, too. They do sort of have a tendency to cut out of school on the slightest excuse, don't they?"

Victor shook his head. "The real problem is that they're both bright enough to do it without really hurting their grades. But a lot of other kids aren't that smart, so it's a bad example." He paused. "Maybe we should try providing them with mentors." He pushed himself upright. "If anybody comes looking for me, I'll be down in the guidance counseling office."

Pam watched him go and sighed.

"What's the matter."

"Reproaching myself, I guess. When he mentioned Minnie, what hit me first was Schadenfreude. And that's terrible. Taking pleasure in somebody else's troubles. But, honest to God, Missy. The great Velma Hardesty soap opera continues. Given the way Mom's been behaving lately, hanging around with that gorgeous garbage man… You've seen him, haven't you? Jacques-Pierre Dumais? I guess it's sort of comforting to realize that other people have troubles, too."

"Yeah. Like Winnie the Pooh called honey. 'Sustaining.' You're not alone, though. Neither is Mr. Saluzzo. Think of what Mr. Dreeson has to deal with, every single day."

PART ONE

August 1634

He with his horrid crew

Chapter 1

Frankfurt am Main

Independent imperial city

United States of Europe

"We could do it, you know," Gui Ancelin said. He threw the newspaper down on the table in the private parlor at Isaac de Ron's inn. "The woman, this Dreeson's wife, has turned up in Basel, it says. Logically, to return to the USE, she will shortly be traveling right through Frankfurt. An old woman. How hard could it be to intercept her?

"We will not violate the trust Michel has placed in us!" Guillaume Locquifier said forcefully. He even went so far as to make a fist at the other man.

Mathurin Brillard blinked. That was not part of Guillaume's usual repertoire of gestures, but he was unusually furious this morning. Possessed by all of the classical furies. Even more immovable and stubborn than usual.

The table was covered with newspapers, and their headlines. Headlines about the new king in the Netherlands and the prospect that Frederik Hendrik, the Calvinist Prince of Orange, would betray his Protestant allies by compromising with the Spaniard-formerly the Cardinal Infante. Headlines about airplanes. Headlines about the archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, who was going to marry that Spanish conqueror after having fled from her intended husband, the Duke of Bavaria, on the eve of her wedding.

There were also headlines about the up-time woman, Simpson's wife. Headlines about Admiral Simpson, who apparently had plans to install a major naval facility within the lands surrounded by those that the Spanish conqueror had already occupied.

There were even headlines about the Grantville mayor's wife, Veronica Richter, who had accompanied Simpson's wife and the former Austrian archduchess in their adventures.

Admittedly, it was maddening. So far, Michel Ducos had not given the people he left behind in Frankfurt permission to do anything at all. Brillard sometimes suspected that Michel was trying to hog all the glory for himself.

But Ducos and Antoine Delerue had placed Guillaume Locquifier in charge of the group in Frankfurt-and as far as Locquifier was concerned, Michel Ducos was The Great Leader. A brilliant leader; an inspiring leader. If seeing him that way would not amount to idolatry, almost a semi-divine leader.

Not to mention a somewhat intimidating leader.

In Brillard's personal opinion, Ducos was also a leader who was more than halfway to becoming insane. He never mentioned that to Guillaume, of course.

So, no matter how furious Locquifier became at the news in the papers, he would wait. Which was precisely what he was proclaiming now.

"Michel has never mentioned this woman. We do not have time to get his permission by way of Mauger's commercial contacts before she will have come and gone. She may not be part of his greater plan. We do not know all the details of his greater plan. He has not chosen to impart them to us."

Fortunat Deneau reached over and picked the paper up. "She will have guards around her if she comes on a Rhine boat. There are still so many different jurisdictions along the Rhine that no one would let her travel without guards. If she travels by river at all, of course. Once she reaches Mainz, however, it is all within the USE to Frankfurt. Is she important enough that any of them would be detailed to accompany her to Frankfurt?"

"We cannot initiate anything without Michel's approval," Guillaume insisted. "Nothing. We will do nothing. Absolutement! "

Robert Ouvrard looked a little mutinous. "If and when we know for certain that she will follow this route, are we to sit around all winter, then, doing nothing but talk? Then maybe talk some more?"

"We may watch her," Locquifier conceded. "Once we know that she has left Basel, if she is coming this way, some of us may go down to Mainz. When she arrives there, we can observe her land. See where she stays. Find out how many people are in her party. Surely she will not be traveling entirely without companions for the rest of her trip, though she is unlikely to have bodyguards." He turned to Ancelin. "You and-he looked around the room-Deneau. Get on the same boat on which she comes to Frankfurt. Observe her. Hear anything useful that is to be heard. But… Do… Nothing."

"Why don't we at least write to Michel?" Ancelin picked up the paper again. "Ask for a sort of blanket approval that we can make some decisions here. Get his agreement that we can take out easy targets if and when we identify any, if they fit in with the prospect of destabilizing Richelieu. We wouldn't have to mention this particular woman. Just ask for something general."

" Non! " Ouvrard shook his head. "Tell Michel who this woman is. She makes a good example. Point out what a splendid opportunity we may be missing because of our obedience to his directives." He stood up, waving his hands in the air. "Michel is the leader, Guillaume, but he simply isn't here. Since we don't have, and won't have, one of the almost magical radios, not any time soon, we can't afford to wait for his approval of every single action. Even our Lord Christ, when he sent out the seventy to convert the world, did not reserve approval of every minor thing they decided to do to himself."

"I will write him," Locquifier said finally. "But I will not do any more than ask. I will not urge. Remember what he told me in Italy. 'Don't be stupid, Guillaume. Do you propose to curse every soldier who stands against us? Divert ourselves at each instant in order to punish lackeys?' I, personally, have no intention of letting him call me 'stupid' again."

Brillard shrugged. It was more than he had expected Ancelin and Ouvrard to accomplish. Michel Ducos was not a man to be pushed. Guillaume Locquifier was not a man to try.

Chapter 2

Lausanne

Switzerland

"Sandrart, what the… heck?" Simon Jones frowned.

"What he means is 'what the hell,' " Ron Stone interpreted. "We're supposed to be going straight home. Not taking scenic detours."

"But it's important to us." Artemisia Gentileschi started to wave her hands. "Joachim sent the messenger more than a week ago. Almost ten days ago. Telling him that if the duke agreed, he should meet us at the inn here and let us know. And Rohan has agreed."

"One more jumped-up nobleman," Jones muttered.

"Duke Henri de Rohan is the most important Protestant patron in France. Well, not in France, since he's in exile, but the most important French Protestant patron of the arts. If Joachim can possibly find a permanent position under the de Rohan/Sully-Bethune umbrella, don't you see, then he won't have to spend most of his life doing commissions for Catholics."

Artemisia's hands stopped for a moment; then started up again. "Not that I see that as a problem. Many Catholic artists work for Protestant patrons, such as the king of England, as I have done myself. And vice versa. It won't be a really major problem for Joachim, either. Even someone like Maximilian of Bavaria is inclined to make temporary exceptions to the rules when it comes to the painters and sculptors in his employ. As long as they paint exactly the subjects that he wants them to, of course. But still." Her hands flew out like two birds taking flight. "We're so close!"

"A week," Jones said. "A week, at least. Two days to get there, a day for the two of you to talk to the man, and two days back to this road. That's if he sees you right away and isn't so puffed up with his own importance that he keeps you hanging around in his waiting room for a while."

Joachim Sandrart looked at Ron. "He is a high military commander in the service of Venice. Your father, being at the University of Padua, is now, also, in a way in the service of Venice. Although I understand, of course, that he is an independent docent, not a salaried member of the faculty at the medical school. Given the popularity of his lectures, he's probably making more money that way. But if he, or your stepmother, should some day encounter any more difficulties, it would be all to the good if they could call on Rohan's good will. Which they are much more likely to be able to do if you have paid your courtesies to him."

Ron looked at Sandrart, then over to his brother Gerry, who was sitting in a corner of the inn by himself.

"Okay, then. We've been making pretty good time. A lot better than we did on the way down to Venice last year, but that was winter. I guess you deserve your chance. Though you could have asked the rest of us first, before you sent the messenger out. If the duke guy doesn't start playing games with us. Is that all right with you, Simon? We can ride over. If he sees Artemisia and Joachim the day we get there or the next, fine. If he doesn't, we're outta there. Or if Joachim wants to wait for him, he can stay behind."

The duke kissed Artemisia's hand in a very courtly manner. She was delighted, having begun to suspect that she was getting beyond the years when a man might think of kissing her hand outside of a formal public reception.

Rohan welcomed Sandrart briefly and immediately sent him upstairs with his private secretary and some other factotum to look at architectural drawings of his various residences, requesting that he submit a proposal for improving their interior decoration before he left or, if that was not possible, as soon as possible thereafter.

Then he told Gerry and Ron that he had heard their father, Herr Thomas Stone, the great chemist, speak. Several times. He had heard one of their father's public lectures during his last visit to Venice and deliberately delayed his return to Switzerland by a week in order to be a guest at his presentations at the medical school in Padua. True, he should have returned at once to engage in one more round of negotiations to bring peace between the Catholic and Protestant cantons. However, since they had now gone several years without achieving peace, he had doubted that a week would make much difference to the rate of progress.

Gerry mumbled, "We're glad you enjoyed it." He obviously wasn't going to say anything else. Ron realized that he would have to take over the conversation.

"It is my hope that your father found pleasure in reading the book I presented to him. Renee of Ferrara advocated some very bold religious ideas."

Ron swallowed hard. "He didn't say anything. Ah, he's been very busy this summer, Your Grace."

Henri de Rohan smiled. "So I have heard. You have scarcely been idle, yourself."

"None of the stuff that happened in Rome was boring. Yeah. A person could really say that. We actually got to see Galileo."

The duke stroked his chin with his finger. Far from preening himself upon his achievements in averting the assassination, the boy seemed to be more inclined to discount them. Modesty or dissembling? Or a prudent concern that a Huguenot leader might not have been averse to the death of Urban VIII?

In any case, it would be a good idea to learn more about Ron Stone.

After dinner, Rohan indicated, perfectly politely, that everyone but Ron was free to withdraw.

Resisting an urge to wriggle along the floorboards and out through a knothole somewhere, Ron stood up, bowed to Artemisia, and resumed his place.

A servant came up behind him, offering to refill his wine glass.

Ron thought about the ghost of conversation yet to come. "Well-watered, please."

The servant complied.

Rohan picked up a small leather-bound volume. "I have a book for you, too, young Monsieur Stone. You may find it interesting. Le Parfait Capitaine, which I completed a few years ago. It discusses Caesar's Gallic Wars and the applicability of their lessons to contemporary warfare. A historical essay, if you will. I attempted to trace the true foundations of the military art from its ancient origins until our own day."

"Thanks. Thanks a lot, really. But I don't know how much I'll get out of reading it. I'm not a soldier, Your Grace. I'm not planning to be one. I'm… an embryonic businessman, perhaps."

"Ah, that interests me. Scarcely the thing that a French merchant would say to a representative of the ancient nobility. They all make at least some pretense to gentility, no matter how transparent that pretense may be."

Ron swallowed again. "I really do believe in what Thomas Jefferson wrote, Your Grace. Maybe I'm not as sophisticated about it as someone like Ms. Mailey. But…"

"Ah, yes. Your 'Declaration of Independence… that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator…' The grounds it adduced to justify the American Revolution made fascinating reading, given how many years my brother and I were in armed revolt against our duly constituted monarch. I thoroughly enjoyed the biography of George Washington that Leopold Cavriani sent me, as well. It is in a way humbling to think that a mere member of the rural gentry was so much more successful than my brother and I. Or, indeed, that some few years from now in England, Cromwell, of much the same class in society, would also succeed far better than we did. Such events serve to remind us that all outcomes are in the hand of God."

"Oh." Ron had a feeling he was running out of acceptable things to say to a French duke. Even an exiled ex-revolutionary Protestant French duke.

Rohan turned to a small chest on the floor next to his chair. He opened it and drew out a sheaf of papers tied with red tape. "If not the Parfait Capitaine, then perhaps this would interest you more. I finished it this spring. The manuscript is at the printer's now. This is an extra copy completed by my secretary. It contains many of my thoughts in regard to the administration of Cardinal Richelieu."

"I… well… do you have much in common?"

"A surprising amount. He and I both agree that the public interest, the raison d'etat, must always be the ruling force in government affairs. Our differences are more a matter of how we interpret what the public interest is. But still. A ruler may deceive himself. His advisers may become corrupt. Even men of good will may misunderstand what the public interest is. But that interest itself, whether it is understood well or badly, can never be at fault. And the king, in the long run, in the last resort, remains responsible for his own actions, and those of his subordinates, before God. If he chooses his delegates poorly or does not supervise them thoroughly…"

Ron's next, panicked, thought was, no nobleman is going to speak this kind of treason to a foreign kid unless the kid's next scheduled stop is having his head chopped off. Then he pulled himself together. Rohan had already said he was having the book printed. So he must be willing to stand behind it, unless…

And he and his brother had fought against Louis XIII at least as long as Washington had fought against George III. "Are you having this printed under your own name, Your Grace?"

Rohan smiled again. "Ah, then you are not politically insensitive. Yes. Under my own name. But in Geneva, not in France. Most certainly not in Paris."

Ron nodded.

"You will not find it surprising, perhaps, that as a Protestant I believe that France's public interest lies in opposition to the Spanish monarchy. You probably, if you have thought of it, find it more surprising that Richelieu has allied with the Protestant English and Danes in the League of Ostend. However, the interests of France remain the interests of France. Note which navy bore the brunt of the Battle of Dunkirk. At this point, an equilibrium in Europe can only be to France's advantage. The recent change in the balance of power among the various branches of the Habsburg dynasty, especially the developments in the Netherlands…"

"Did you come to bed at all, last night?" Gerry asked.

"Yeah, but it must have been two or three o'clock in the morning."

Joachim Sandrart looked at him questioningly.

"The duke was in a talkative mood."

Chapter 3

Grantville

State of Thuringia-Franconia

Henry Dreeson, Grantville's mayor, stood on the sidewalk outside City Hall leaning heavily on his cane, watching the garbage collection wagon rumble by on its iron-rimmed wheels. Yesterday's parade had generated even more trash than usual. People had been in a pretty exuberant mood because of the final peace settlement reached with the Spanish in the Netherlands. Especially coming on top of the thorough trashing that the USE had given the League of Ostend still earlier in the year.

The marching band had stepped out to "Hey, Look Me Over." Henry liked that song. Peppy. There'd been a couple of down-time tunes then, that Marcus Wendell had worked over to make them marchable, so to speak. Finished up with "High Hopes." He liked that one, too. They'd stopped still and stepped in place to play the SoTF anthem. Marching along to "Jerusalem, Du Hochgebaute Stadt" would take a miracle as big as the Ring itself. Not that the "Star Spangled Banner" had been any better, when it came to rhythm. Not if they sang it right and didn't mangle it.

The Jerusalem song fit in well enough with American history, though, Mary Kat Riddle said. Something about a city on a hill. Henry looked around. "Down in the Valley" would make more sense for Grantville.

Not Riddle now. Well, probably still Riddle. Mary Kat had gotten married last winter, to Lisa Dailey's brother, but girls were mostly keeping their maiden names these days, just like the down-time women did. What was Mary Kat's husband's name? Utt. Derek Utt. He was over at Fulda.

There had been a float made to look like one of the ironclads. One with Benny Pierce fiddling and Minnie Hugelmair singing. They'd labeled another one "Narnia," with costumed characters from the books and a girl representing Princess Kristina. The folks at St. Mary's were so dizzy with joy over Larry Mazzare's being made a cardinal that they'd managed to build a float that looked like a big red hat. It had been the biggest parade since the Ring of Fire.

He wondered if the folks at St. Mary's-the up-timers, at least-would still be feeling so joyful once they realized that Larry's new honor meant that he likely wouldn't be coming back from Italy to be their parish priest again. He'd be going to Magdeburg. Ed Piazza had pointed that out to Henry. It would be one more upset to smooth over. Sometimes it seemed like every success they had brought along its own set of new problems and the changes never stopped.

Henry glanced back, up at the door he had just come through. Sometimes it seemed like every time he had to go up and down these steps, it took a little more out of him than it had the time before. He prayed that his wife Ronnie, wherever she was, was safe. He wished really hard that Ronnie would come home pretty soon. Sometimes, he admitted to himself, he wished even harder that she had never gone off on this trip with Mary Simpson. They'd have been able to get by without her first husband's money, whatever was left of it.

If, of course, there had not been the problem of college tuition for Annalise. He'd said to Enoch Wiley more than once that Ronnie had piled too much on Annalise's shoulders this summer, between trying to manage Gretchen's orphan collection, some of them nearly as old as she was herself, and running the St. Veronica's Academy schools. She was barely seventeen. Idelette Cavriani, the Genevan girl staying with the Wileys, was the same age and had agreed to help her, but Henry was not certain that two heads were better than one when each of the heads was seventeen years old. The theory seemed to be that adding a Calvinist to be Annalise's assistant, even with the bookkeeping part, would prevent people from seeing the academies as Catholic parochial schools.

A thought that made Enoch rather grumpy. Enoch did not approve of the ecumenical movement. He was quite as sure that the pope was the anti-Christ as any seventeenth-century Scots Presbyterian in Grantville. But Henry had married a Catholic-sort of a Catholic, so to speak. Ronnie and Inez had become friends, which had led to Annalise and Idelette becoming friends. So Enoch made the best of it.

Gretchen made Henry feel a bit grumpy himself. She ought to come back, too. Generously adopting a crew of orphans during the stress of war was one thing. Life-affirming, he guessed his daughter Margie would have said back before the Ring of Fire. What had Melissa Mailey called her? A chooser of the living.

Well, Gretchen had chosen those kids. Much as he hated to say it, choosing to stay home and bring them up appeared to be something else again. First, she got involved with those Committees of Correspondence. Then, off she went to Paris and Amsterdam. Sure, the kids were better off at his house than they would have been in a mercenary army. They were clean, dry, and well fed. They were going to school.

But he had to work, Annalise had to go to school herself and work, Gretchen and Jeff had been gone for over a year, and now Ronnie was away. He didn't see that they were getting much parenting staying home with a housekeeper and the cook. He'd said so to Enoch.

"Parenting" had been one of Margie's words, too. Some days he missed Margie and her kids more than others. This was one of them.

Stress, Enoch called it. He'd learned that word from Henny De Vries, the Dutch nurse. Back before the Ring of Fire, she'd specialized in nut cases. It was one of her words.

When Denise's father, Buster Beasley, caught Minnie and Denise starting to teach Missy Jenkins and Pam Hardesty to ride the hogs-not that catching them was hard, since they made no attempt to hide the project and started the experiment by having their pupils ride around the rental storage units on Buster's lot on the little dirt bikes-he announced that anything worth doing was worth doing well, intervened, and took over the instruction. But he made sure to tell the girls that they had been doing a good job considering their own level of experience, and they should assist him so that eventually they would be fully capable of teaching others.

Considering that Missy and Pam didn't have cycles of their own and only had time to come out to the lot two or three times a week, he told Denise, they were making pretty good progress. Though neither of them would ever be the kind of pip she was.

Father and daughter smiled at one another in close harmony.

Pam Hardesty looked up from her perch on a high three-legged school. Since she had taken this job, the sign over her head had been changed from "National Library of the New United States" to "State Library of Thuringia-Franconia."

It was the same library, of course, in the same part of the high school building. But when their little "nation" confederated with the CPE had become one more province in the United States of Europe last winter, the congress had prudently demoted the library's title, just in case the word "national" might give the USE's ruler, who was something of a cultural imperialist, the idea of removing it to Magdeburg. Or even Stockholm.

Gustavus Adolphus had removed quite a few books to Stockholm during the years he had been campaigning in Germany. And a couple of whole libraries, like the one in Wurzburg. As the boss, Elaine Bolender, had said in her recommendation to the SoTF congress, it paid to be careful when you were dealing with that man. Not quite in those words, of course.

Pam had started at the library as a page, in the spring of 1633. Before that, she'd been an ESOL aide at the middle school. She had kept on ESOL-aideing in her spare time, of course. They always needed people and when a girl was entirely on her own it was sometimes hard to make ends meet.

This fall, she was starting training to manage the circulation desk some day. She'd already "interned" here at the state library, at the public library, and at the high school. With a week or so each at the elementary school and the middle school, to give her a "taste" of librarianship at that level, Elaine Bolender had said. Then Elaine had given her a choice between specializing in circulation and training for reference. Well, and staying a page, of course, which was what she'd been doing before. She'd picked the desk. She liked meeting all the new people who came in and seeing who was interested in what better than she did wandering through the closed stacks looking things up.

She grinned at Missy Jenkins.

Missy, now, she was the reverse. She liked looking things up, even though she was a few years younger, eighteen to Pam's twenty-one. Pam had been the same class as her older brother Chip, not with Missy.

When Missy graduated from high school on the accelerated schedule they'd set up after the Ring of Fire for the kids who could hack it, of course her mom had stuck her right into teacher training and ESOL-aideing at the middle school. With no universities or colleges that took girls and Missy definitely not wanting to be a nurse, Debbie Jenkins had regarded teaching school as the only game in town.

This year, a couple of new games were starting to be developed out of town, if you looked at it that way. A women's college in Quedlinburg that would open this fall; the Roths' co-ed university way over in Prague that was getting organized.

That was this year. Missy had graduated in August a year ago. Pam suspected that with Chip in Jena, her folks wouldn't have been thrilled to have her go off to school somewhere else anyway. Her dad kept trying to get her interested in his businesses, and she did quite a bit of office work for him, but she seemed to shy away from getting really involved with it. She'd never said why, at least not to Pam.

Then, the middle of Missy's first year in the teacher training program, her mom took over running it. Missy had groaned dramatically.

Pam thought, a little wistfully, that it might be nice to have a mom who ran a teacher training program. Instead of… Velma.

Maybe it looked different from Missy's perspective. The end of the year, last spring, Missy had transferred out of teacher training and ESOL-aideing, over here to the state library.

She was training to be an information librarian. What they used to call a reference librarian, Pam suspected.

Anyway, Missy had turned out to be a good friend.

Chapter 4

Grantville

State of Thuringia-Franconia

Jacques-Pierre Dumais did not care for garbage, as such. However, the Garbage Guys did not merely collect Grantville's garbage. Even this long after the Ring of Fire, a fair number of people still tossed out things for which other people might have some conceivable use, not even going to the trouble of taking them to the recycling center themselves. So the people who worked for Garbage Guys separated the trash themselves, as soon as possible after collecting it, in order to find as many items as possible that they could resell for a profit. Very little of Grantville's garbage was sent to the incinerator.

Objectively, Jacques-Pierre did not find the collection of garbage to be a desirable task. The separation of garbage, however, he found to be very helpful to his goals.

He had heard someone describe a device called a paper shredder. That invention was enough to make a man shudder. It was most fortunate that few of the Grantvillers had owned such a thing at the time of the Ring of Fire. It was too bad that one of them had been owned by the Kellys, the would-be aircraft manufacturers, who still used it and thus made it unnecessarily difficult for Jacques-Pierre to access information about their technology.

But a spy could scarcely hope for life to be full of free gifts, after all.

Like almost every other French Huguenot descended from members of the diaspora that had spread across Europe during the Wars of Religion of the preceding century, Jacques-Pierre had found the widely circulated accounts of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes that had occurred-

– or would have occurred, or will occur-

– some verb tense, in any case-

– in the year 1685 fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. As, of course, did Duke Henri de Rohan.

It turned out, according to the American history books, that the Edict of Nantes issued in the year 1598 by the French king Henry IV, which established many religious and civil freedoms for France's Protestants, would be revoked less than a century later by the still-unborn Louis XIV, son of the currently reigning French monarch, Louis XIII. That would happen in October of 1685, a half century in the future. Thereafter, almost all of France's Protestants-usually called Huguenots-emigrated from the country.

So when Laurent Mauger, from a Huguenot family but now a merchant in Haarlem, had approached Jacques-Pierre about the possibility of going to Grantville to gather further information that could be used to benefit the Protestant cause in France, he had agreed with only the most perfunctory raising of difficulties. Only enough difficulties to improve the remuneration that Mauger first offered. Not to have done so would have raised Mauger's suspicions immediately.

After the two of them had reached an agreement, of course, Jacques-Pierre immediately notified Duke Henri. The duke was Jacques-Pierre's real employer and he knew that Rohan had already, for some time, been seriously concerned about what some of the Huguenot extremists might do. In which, God only knew, he was justified, considering the information that had come from Venice during the spring in regard to the activities of Michel Ducos and his gang of fanatics. Not to mention the news that had come from the duke's Venetian contacts in Rome last month. That it was Ducos who had attempted to assassinate the pope.

Duke Henri de Rohan did not care for assassinations. Or assassins. His father-in-law had been a close friend as well as a counselor of the late, most unfortunately assassinated, King Henri IV of France. Sully had been one of those who had advised the Huguenot Henri de Navarre that Paris was worth a mass, thus possibly contributing to the circumstances that had led the madman to storm the royal carriage with his knife. It bore on his conscience.

Although he had so advised his friend, Sully had never brought himself to make such a… transition… in the practice of his faith. At the king's wish, he had married his daughter to Rohan who, himself, like his mother, his brother, his wife, and his father-in-law, remained a Calvinist.

This time, perhaps, history would be different. At the parade, everyone in Grantville had been celebrating the overwhelming defeat of the forces of the League of Ostend. Jacques-Pierre smirked. Most of them didn't bother to think that they were celebrating the overwhelming defeat of the French regiments under the command of that idiot de Valois, with only the Huguenot Turenne coming out of the campaign with any glory at all. That would do a lot to undermine the position of Richelieu. Richelieu, the villain who had so strengthened the French crown at the expense of the Estates that in another half-century a French king had been able to revoke the Edict of Nantes.

That was the first and prime goal, Mauger had assured him-to undermine Richelieu. To prevent the centralization of all political power in France in the crown, to the point that the next king could revoke the Edict of Nantes. It didn't matter much how they did it, Mauger claimed. Even that idiot, the king's brother and heir presumptive, Monsieur Gaston, could be a tool. Getting the royal forces out of La Rochelle and returning the city to its pre-1628 status as a bastion of French Protestantism would be a triumph, if they could achieve it.

Mauger even argued that if the Huguenots, ordinary people, had some successes, it might encourage Henri de Rohan to return to a more active leadership role. It might at least allow him to return from his years of exile in Venice and the Swiss cantons.

Wouldn't the duke be surprised to hear that?

That had been months ago, long before Turenne's successful cavalry raid on the oil fields of the United States of Europe at Wietze. Now. .. Ah, if it should happen that the Protestant Turenne was the only effective military leader the king of France could rely upon, that would be superb.

But Mauger was only an agent. He admitted that himself, when Dumais pressed him on the subject. His own contact-rather, the mysterious employer of his own contact-needed information. Must have information. So Jacques-Pierre had agreed to go to Grantville.

Even more, Henri de Rohan needed information about Mauger's mysterious employer. So, in Grantville, Jacques-Pierre had become a garbage collector. In life, there were few free gifts.

Madame Haggerty-now she was a free gift. To have such a woman as the mother of one of his employers was far more than he could have reasonably hoped for, he reflected, as he jogged along next to the garbage wagon.

Later that day, Dumais collected his mail, regretting that Venice and the Swiss had not yet joined the new International Postal Union that made use of pre-paid stamps. If it had, Duke Henri would be paying the postage, not himself.

Ah, well. Even if Jacques-Pierre could rent a post office box, it wouldn't keep him from having to appear at the post office fairly regularly. That wasn't something ordinarily expected of a garbage collector. Luckily, the Grantvillers were, as a whole, so eccentric themselves that they did not find it notably unusual or peculiar for a trash man to receive letters with international postmarks.

Dumais could have tried to pass for a Walloon instead of a Frenchman, he supposed, but there were too many Walloons working at USE Steel down around Saalfeld and Kamsdorf. Some one of them might have tried to look him up. Bad idea. Simpler was better, particularly since so many of the Grantvillers were convinced that all Frenchmen were incompetent-aside from Richelieu, of course. In a pinch, he identified himself as Rochellais, which was perfectly true, too.

There was a letter from Henri de Rohan today. As soon as Dumais was outside the post office, he opened it and began reading.

The duke was worried about Ducos. He speculated that Ducos had, from Rome, headed for the south coast of France, gone up the Rhone, crossed over to the upper Rhine, taken it as far of the mouth of the Main, and would probably soon be meeting with his henchmen and cohorts in Frankfurt am Main. The duke would make arrangements in Frankfurt, through his contacts with the Huguenot colony there, to have people on the alert for Locquifier and the others.

Dumais nodded. That was not his problem. What was this leading up to?

He read on. Of course. A Grantville connection. Rohan had also learned that the one Roman confederate of Ducos who had been apprehended was caught due to the rapid action and thinking of a boy named Ron Stone and his brothers. Stone was now reported to be in transit from Padua to Grantville. Should he appear there, Dumais should attempt to contact him.

Dumais shook his head, wryly. There were times the duke's exalted position made him blind to certain realities. He seemed to think that a lowly garbage collector could easily contact the son of the owner of Lothlorien Farbenwerke, who was now probably the wealthiest man in Grantville.

Pas du tout, monsieur le duc!

True, it would be easier for Jacques-Pierre to make Stone's acquaintance in Grantville than in most other places. But easier did not necessarily mean easy.

Rohan, de Ron, Ron Stone. All for his mind to keep track of on one assignment. Sometimes he suspected that the Lord God had a perverse sense of humor.

Chapter 5

Grantville

"Thanks for letting us use your living room, Chad." Henry Dreeson sank gratefully into Charles Jenkins' comfortably upholstered leather recliner. "My place is too much of a madhouse to do any serious talking, with all those kids around, and it's getting so that in the middle of the noise level at the Gardens, I can't hear myself think."

"Just can't hear, is more like it," Enoch Wiley said. "It's getting to be the same way for me. None of us are getting any younger."

"Or spryer." Henry leaned his cane against the chair arm. "I hate seeing Tom Riddle in a wheel chair, even if he does look like he's having a good time being pushed all over the place by his students. Seems like he sort of enjoys law professing."

"Gets him out of the house and away from Veleda. That woman is downright strenuous."

The rest of them nodded while they were sorting themselves out onto the couch and other chairs. Veleda Riddle was a good woman and no one could say a word against her, but she did tend to take the bit between her teeth when she got one of her enthusiasms. Like founding the League of Women Voters. Or, now, reopening and restoring the old Episcopalian church and getting hold of a minister for it.

Missy Jenkins came in through the archway in hostess mode. "Hi, Dad. Hi, everybody. Mom's at a meeting over at the middle school-teacher training stuff." She kissed her father on the cheek and smiled at the rest of them.

"Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, beer, or wine from Winzerla up by Jena," she said, giving her best impression of a waitress. In a more normal voice, she added, "The coffee's fresh-roasted from Sternbock's and I just ground it. The cocoa beans are from Sesma's. I'll strain the hot chocolate through cheesecloth if anyone wants it, to get out those little granules that get stuck in the back of your throat."

After a bit she disappeared through the dining room and swinging doors to the kitchen to produce two coffees, one hot chocolate, and three beers.

"Where were we?" Joe Stull rocked back on the hind legs of the straight chair he had chosen.

Ed Piazza stretched. "Trying to think of some tactful way to tell Mike Stearns that the Fourth of July Party here in West Virginia County can't really afford to have Becky as our senator in the SoTF House of Lords any more. Nothing against her. We all like the girl. But, face it, she's been gone for a year and a half on this embassy to Paris and Amsterdam. No end to it in sight right away, and now she's going to have another baby in a couple of months. We can't afford not to have a real, effective, voice speaking for us. Either she's got to come home-come back here, make Grantville her real residence, and attend the sessions of the congress-or she's got to resign, so we can run another candidate. The election's not that far off."

Tony Adducci shook his head. "Personally, I don't think she's going to come home. Come back. Her home's wherever Mike is, and Mike's going to be staying in Magdeburg, I expect, even if he loses to Wettin. He'll still be in Parliament and he'll be the head of the opposition to the Crown Loyalists. I don't think she'll be willing to move away from him again, once they get this peace in place. If you want my opinion, she'll come down here long enough to collect Sephie and Balthazar and then settle down in Magdeburg. They might even take Mike's mom with them."

Enoch Wiley shook his head. "Don't think Jean'll be willing to go. She's one of those women who positively enjoy ill health."

Joe reached up, taking a beer from the tray that Missy brought in. "It's an awfully big house for one woman and a home health aide to be rattling around in, but I can't see Jean taking in boarders. Just can't. Becky'll take Sephie's nanny pair along to Magdeburg, probably. She's almost bound to. She has that little boy she adopted in Amsterdam and now a new baby coming."

Tony shook his head. "She might not need a nanny. She's not had the kind of problems having babies that Aura Lee did, Joe. Becky bounced right back, after Sephie."

Henry cleared his throat. "Bounced back and hared off to Paris, not six months later. When she does get home, that little baby will be over two years old. Sephie won't have the slightest idea who she is. Not any more than Will and Joey will remember Gretchen. Ah, Will maybe can remember her, a little. But Joey not at all. He was only three months old when she left."

Arnold Bellamy reached up for one of the coffees. "Natalie would not be pleased to hear us making disparaging remarks about women who are trying to combine motherhood with a career."

Chad shook his head. "They're not criticizing, Arnold. They're just telling the truth. No matter how grateful we are to those two girls for what they've done for Grantville, and for the USE, and for anything in between, the fact remains that neither of them has exactly been a homebody. And, in Becky's case, since she's a government official, we've got to deal with this and have some kind of a plan in place before the next election." He took the last beer and looked at the tray. "Who's the second hot chocolate for?"

"Me," Missy answered cheerfully, plopping the tray down on the coffee table. " 'Train up a child in the way he should go.' 'She,' if you want to be picky. Maybe even, 'the laborer is worthy of his hire.' Or 'her hire.' "

She sat down on the second straight chair she had brought in from the dining room. "Think of me as a politician in training. Hey, guys. Dad served a term as county commissioner back before the Ring of Fire. Why can't I, someday?"

"You're a librarian-in-training, Miss Missy," Ed Piazza said.

She nodded agreeably. "That, too. It's always a good thing to have a fallback position. Local politics doesn't exactly pay well. Have you guys heard anything about setting a date? That's an odd thing about this parliamentary system, for most Americans-that elections don't come on a regular schedule, but whenever Mike decides to call them."

Piazza leaned back and started to talk. Finally, he wound up. "So, to Mike's surprise as much as Wettin's, coming out of the military and naval victories this spring, it started to look like Mike actually could, and would, win the election. Which wasn't what he'd expected, and it damn sure wasn't what Wettin expected. So as soon as the Congress of Copenhagen was over, Wettin and the Crown Loyalists started maneuvering to get the election postponed to as late in the year as possible. Don't forget that while we've got a cease-fire in place in the Netherlands, the war isn't over yet. Look what Nils Brahe managed across the Rhine once Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar pulled his cavalry back from around Mainz. It worked, but it could have gone wrong. Wettin and his people figure that the more time between the battles of Ahrensbok and Luebeck and the election, the more time for the war gloss to rub off Mike. The more time for him and his people to administer a thousand little cuts about every minor thing that does go wrong."

"What does that amount to as far as setting a date goes?"

"I don't think it's going to happen before the end of this year. It's the first national election the USE will be running, after all. Think of what it was like doing the SoTF election last spring-setting up polling places, training poll workers, getting the ballots printed and distributed. And now, with the war, Gustav has annexed a whole lot of entirely new territory that hadn't even started to get ready because it wasn't in the country. He sure doesn't want to tick off Frederik of Denmark by not letting his new Province of Westphalia vote. Or Nils Brahe, by offending the people in Upper Rhine now, after Brahe managed to do a Florida on it. So there's a bunch of stuff to be done. Offhand, I'd say early next year. February or March, probably. But I don't know anything for sure."

Joe rocked his chair forward. "Let's figure that it'll be February, then, for this year's election. Next year's election, if you want to be picky. February worked out pretty well in the SoTF when we used it this year. It's easy for people living in villages to get to the polling place, even in winter. And in the slack season, for farmers, they have time to read the newspapers and statements and such. If it turns out to be a little earlier, we can cope. If it's a little later, we'll have that much more time to cope." The chair went back again.

Tony Adducci changed the subject. "Chad, have you heard anything from Wes about the way he sees things going around Fulda?"

"I've heard from him, and passed his letter on to Ed. He's had a chance to talk to Constantine Ableidinger's people over there. And I know Ed's talked to Ableidinger himself. Franconia's pretty much in agreement with Thuringia as far as what has to go on the state ballot is concerned. It's mainly restructuring the SoTF constitution to handle the results of the Ram Rebellion. An amendment to bring the margraves of Bayreuth and Ansbach into the House of Lords. And the biggie."

The conversation dwindled into silence for the next couple of minutes.

The biggie. The elephant in Chad Jenkins' living room. The invisible elephant on the coffee table, occupying a lot of space right next to the tray of sliced cheese and pretzels that Missy had brought in. The real reason why six up-timers were having this meeting without bringing any down-timers into it this evening.

The choice of a permanent state capital for the State of Thuringia-Franconia.

Nobody ever voted for Grantville to be the capital. It happened by default, right after the Ring of Fire, when the SoTF was still the New United States, and the NUS was a half-dozen little towns and principalities in south central Thuringia. A long time before it had turned into a province of the USE with nearly a million people.

The congress of the SoTF, in its collective wisdom, had passed a bill to put the issue on the ballot in the next election.

The problem of a permanent capital had been stewing around for a while. The candidates would be Grantville, Weimar, Erfurt, Wurzburg, and Bamberg. Suhl had been nominated, but the city council declined. A suspicion existed that the gun makers of Suhl really didn't want all that many resident bureaucrats looking over their shoulders.

Of course, Suhl would have had the same main problem that Grantville did. Because of the geography of the place, it really didn't have a lot of room to grow, if the state capital started to become a big city. Grantville had maybe twenty thousand people in it now, give or take the ones who were moving in or out almost every day. It wasn't ever going to have more, because the narrow valley of Buffalo Creek and the shale slate rock of the hills that went close to straight up from the flood plain meant there wasn't any place to put them. They could spill over the edges of the Ring of course, and they did. Grantville had suburbs, now. But by the time folks were living halfway to Rudolstadt or Saalfeld or Badenburg,, they weren't really in Grantville.

So something was on the mind of everyone in the room. Uppermost on the mind of Henry Dreeson, who had called the meeting in the first place. How were the up-timers-mainly the ones who still lived in town, but maybe some of the ones who were off in places like Magdeburg or Swabia-going to react if Grantville didn't win this vote? They started to scope out ways to handle it. All the possible reactions there might be, from "those ingrates, after all we've done for them" right up to "man the barricades, boys-the barbarians are coming."

"What, exactly, do they want?" Annabelle Piazza stood in her kitchen, holding a piece of paper against the wall next to the phone while she tried to scribble notes with a worn-down pencil.

"I thought I'd better call Ed at home," Henry Dreeson repeated for the third time. "I wasn't sure that it's really SoTF state business and I know he's trying to keep civil service and politics separate. Which is good and right, I suppose, but pretty hard to do when a man has to get elected. Anyway, what I think it amounts to is that Wes Jenkins and Harlan Stull think it would do the Fourth of July Party some good in Buchenland County in these upcoming elections for me to come over on a politicking trip some time this fall. Buchenland County-that's what we used to call Fulda. Because they're having some fallout from this Ram Rebellion that's going on down in Franconia and all. I'll call Joe, too, since Harlan's his nephew. And Chad, since Wes is his brother. Maybe they've heard something about what's up."

"I'll pass it on. It could be legitimate SoTF business though, it sounds like. So maybe you should call him at the office."

"Seems to me more like Fourth of July Party business. I can't go anyway, of course. Ronnie's still among the missing and I can't go haring off and leave Annalise to watch over the rest of Gretchen's orphans all by herself. Not even with a cook and a sort of nanny in the house. There has to be somebody who's in charge. Gretchen's had more than a year to organize the Committee of Correspondence in Amsterdam. You'd think that she'd be getting herself organized by now and come home and take care of those kids. Especially with Ronnie still down in Bavaria, somewhere, as far as we know. The shooting war's been over for nearly three months. Why's Gretchen still in Amsterdam, anyhow? But maybe somebody else could go over to Fulda. Can you ask Ed that, to do me a favor?"

He was about to put down the phone, when the doorbell rang. Annabelle was saying something about Ronnie and Mary Simpson, though, so he kept hold of the receiver. "Annalise," he called. "Can you answer that?"

She came scurrying from somewhere at the back of the house, opened the door, and stood there talking for a couple of minutes to someone outside. Just as he finished up with Annabelle, she turned back into the front hall leading by the hand another girl who looked so much like her that she could have been her sister. "It's my cousin Dorothea and her fiance. From Grafenwohr. Oma sent them here so they can get married. She's Catholic. He's not. They can't get married in the Upper Palatinate. They've been on the road ever since Oma got kidnapped."

She pulled the girl into the living room, turned her head, and waved at the couch. "Sit down, Dorothea, for goodness sake!"

Dorothea sat.

Pregnant, Henry thought. Annie sat down that way when she was carrying Margie. Margie sat down that way when she was carrying all three of her kids. A kind of bottom-heavy thump, like her rear end couldn't wait to meet the chair.

"Hell," he said. "Let me call Jenny Maddox. I'll waive the waiting period for the license and we can take care of it after supper, over at city hall. Run into the kitchen, will you, Annalise, like a good girl, and tell Martha that we're going to have two more at the table, so she can set places. Then come back and explain about civil wedding ceremonies to them." He grabbed his cane and stumped back out into the hall to use the phone again before she could object.

When he got back into the living room after he'd gotten Jenny to agree to go back to the Bureau of Vital Statistics as soon as she had finished eating and fetch a marriage license, the girl-Dorothea? Yep, Dorothea-had slid off the sofa down onto the floor. She was rolling a ball back and forth with Gretchen's two-year-old Joey. Annalise and the boy-all right, young man, somewhere in his mid-twenties, probably, but he had one of those eternally boyish faces-were talking a mile a minute about civil weddings. He was a Calvinist, not a Lutheran, and Calvin had originally been in favor of having weddings be civil, it seemed, because marriages were legal contracts. It was all right with him.

Henry looked at Dorothea on the floor. She was Catholic, Annalise had said, but it didn't look like she was the kind to argue with her future husband. After he'd gotten the two of them good and tightly married, Annalise could call someone over at St. Mary's, explain it all, and let them worry about fixing the situation up with the priests. Seemed to him that this was one of those better to beg forgiveness than ask permission situations. If they could fix it up. He wasn't sure what the Catholic church rules were, either up-time or down-time. Jesuits were supposed to be good at figuring the angles, though.

Dorothea was still rolling the ball with Joey. Will came in from the back yard. He watched a couple of minutes, walked over, and leaned against her shoulder, his blond hair falling against hers. She kept rolling the ball with her left hand and put her right arm around the older boy's waist.

Family. Annalise's cousin, so Gretchen's cousin, too. Knew how to deal with kids.

"I'd like to invite the pair of you to stay with us, here at the house," Henry said. "Not for just a few days, but until Nicholas here finds a job and the two of you have a chance to look around and get settled permanently. No hurry about that. You're welcome to stay as long as you like. It's a big old house. We've got plenty of room."

Laurent Mauger climbed down from the wagon. The driver had set out the set of portable folding steps he took along when he traveled, so he managed it with considerable dignity. He stretched his legs, crooked a finger at the porter outside the Higgins Hotel, and walked in.

It was such a wonderful world in which a man's dutiful service to the Huguenot cause had the side effect of allowing him to stay in the Higgins Hotel in Grantville on quite legitimate business, which he could expense to the company.

Quite legitimate business. He was a wine merchant. While the local wines grown around Jena weren't bad, and the Franconian wines were really superb if one liked a dry white, there was a lot of money in Grantville now. Some of that money belonged to people who were convinced that Rhine wines, Moselle wines, sometimes even Italian red wines, but above all French wines, were better. Or, if not better, at least more impressive when a man served them to his dinner guests.

Down-timer money, mostly, when it came to wine marketing. Most of the up-timers preferred beer. The men, at least.

Money to be made. That was how he had come to know Isaac de Ron in Frankfurt. Money to be made quite honestly, along with the thrill of doing something a little devious, perhaps, for his fellow religionists. And a town with a class structure so peculiar that nobody thought it odd to see a wine merchant talking to a garbage collector as long as they had made it known to anyone who cared to listen that they shared a common church affiliation.

He huffed his way up the steps. In deference to the local creek's tendency to flood, the ground floor of the Higgins Hotel was devoted to service area. The splendid reception room was on the first floor, some distance above the street.

All this, and a hot tub, too.

Mauger felt no obligation to identify "my contact" as the host of Zum Weissen Schwan in Frankfurt. Then his own mouth betrayed him by speaking the name. "De Ron." Merde! Conspiracy wasn't as easy as it might be. He might as well keep going, now that Dumais knew who the intermediary was.

Paranoia. What a wonderful word. A wonderful thing, too. It made the life of a field agent so much simpler. Jacques-Pierre Dumais stretched out on his pallet, propped his feet up on his trunk, and started a mental diagram. It didn't look quite like a spider web. More like two webs, blown together by a strong wind, not meshing, but intersecting in certain areas.

Henri de Rohan, the duke, in the center of one. For whom Isaac de Ron in Frankfurt worked and for whom Jacques-Pierre worked himself. Not via de Ron, but directly. Two different threads. However, he had, in that trunk right under his feet, well hidden in a secret compartment, authorization letters that would permit him to call upon de Ron if he should need him.

Ducos, the madman, in the center of the other. Well, Ducos and Delerue both. Dumais counted down on his fingers. For whom Guillaume Locquifier worked. For whom in turn de Ron worked, or at least pretended to. For whom Laurent Mauger worked-at least he worked for "de Ron in his guise as Locquifier's man" but not for "de Ron in his guise as Rohan's agent." For whom Jacques-Pierre Dumais worked. Or pretended to.

Their own rampant and paranoid security had broken a link in the chain that would have enabled Ducos' men to make the critical connections. With any luck at all, Locquifier would never learn that Jacques-Pierre was Laurent Mauger's Grantville informant. So neither Locquifier in Frankfurt nor Ducos nor Delerue, wherever they might be by now, would have a chance to connect one Jacques-Pierre Dumais, a garbage collector, with the Jacques-Pierre Dumais who was otherwise known to them as one of Henri de Rohan's footmen.

One hoped, at least, that the link was well and completely broken. It would be unfortunate if Ducos found out. Potentially quite dangerous, also. Ducos and his fanatics were a murderous lot.

Ducos might find out, of course. It was not beyond the realm of the possibly that he would. Ah, well. C'est la vie!

PART TWO

September 1634

Under amazement of their hideous change

Chapter 6

Grantville

Ed Piazza looked at the packet of papers that Martin Wackernagel had just dropped directly into his hands.

Wes Jenkins was very conscientious. He hadn't sent them by SoTF government mail. Like Henry Dreeson, he thought of this project as a "politicking trip," Ed supposed.

And he wouldn't have wanted to put them in the mail. That was probably prudent. The mail was a great thing for inquiring after the health of your great-aunt Gladys, but the fact remained that under the postmastership of Johan van den Birghden, the USE postal system was not exactly impermeable to snooping. Any more than the imperial system under the Thurn und Taxis family was impermeable to snooping.

So Wes had paid a private courier, like almost everybody else who wanted to be as sure as possible that confidential or sensitive information got from here to there without an intermediate detour into the hands of someone else's spies.

"He paid you at the other end?"

Wackernagel nodded and smiled.

Ed thought that he'd never let that smile anywhere near his daughter. How the man had managed to remain a bachelor this long, in a world that didn't have effective contraceptives and did have shotgun weddings…

Ed might be as straight as a stick himself, but that didn't mean he couldn't recognize a guy with the masculine equivalent of come hither when he saw one.

The courier waved and walked out the door. Ed waved absentmindedly in return.

Now all they had to do was talk Henry into going on a tour of Buchenland and coax it into a solidly pro-Fourth of July Party stance before Mike called new elections. Which they should be able to do. The news had arrived a couple of days ago that Mary and Veronica had reached Basel and were safely in the USE embassy with Diane Jackson.

Plus, the word from Franconia was that the Ram Rebellion had pretty much wound to its end with the face-down of Freiherr von Bimbach by Anita Masaniello.

Which left the problem that some group of unknown recalcitrants had kidnaped more than half of the SoTF administrators in Fulda, including Wes Jenkins himself.

Which was where Henry would be going.

Wes must have sent the paperwork before they got him.

Ed got up and walked over to the window.

Nothing he could do about Wes and the others from here. Anyway, the folks over in Fulda had already managed to get Harlan Stull and Roy Copenhaver back. They'd radioed that in yesterday. Plus Fred Pence and Johnny Furbee. That had come in this morning, barely in time for him to get a news release out.

Ed would have to work on faith that they'd do as well with Orville and Mark. And Wes and Clara. And the abbot. He'd spent a lot of time these last few years doing that-working on the faith that the people he'd sent out to do an impossible job would accomplish it.

If Derek Utt and his people didn't find the others. Well, then Buchenland would need something like a visit from Henry Dreeson more than ever.

He picked up the phone. "Chad, can you get hold of Joe, Tony, and the rest of the crew? See if we can meet with Henry for lunch? Somewhere quiet, so not the Gardens. Not Cora's. See if the back room at Tyler's is free."

"Basel's better than 'somewhere in Bavaria,' " Henry admitted. "But it's still not exactly 'right here in Grantville.' "

Arnold Bellamy, who was twirling his knife in his fingers, said, "You're weakening."

"I've talked to Tony Jr.," Tony Sr. said. "Well, we've sent a lot of Morse Code back and forth since he first raised up Bernadette and told her that the ladies were there."

"Not a little bit proud of that boy of yours, are you?" Joe Stull grinned.

"Not a 'little bit,' no," Tony answered agreeably. "He's pretty sure we'll be able to get them out of Basel. So I figure," he looked at Henry, "that we might as well go ahead and do the planning for your trip. Then, when we get the actual news that Horn or somebody else on our side has collected them, you'll be ready to go ahead and start out."

Henry pushed his plate back and leaned forward, elbows on the table and fingers steepled. "I've still got that house full of kids to deal with. Jeff and Gretchen are still in Amsterdam and I don't mind saying that I'm getting sort of exasperated by the whole thing. Not that Will and Joey and the older ones aren't pretty well behaved as kids go, but they're her job. Not mine. Not Annalise's. And really not Ronnie's." He leaned back. "Now that I've gotten that off my chest.. ."

"How're you going to handle it?"

"Well, with Ronnie's niece staying with us now, it's a different kettle of fish than it was a couple of months ago. Thea and Nicol are grown-ups. In their twenties and married and expecting a baby. So they can house sit. Babysit. Plus, I've talked to Enoch and Inez. They've agreed to supervise. Sort of at a distance, with Nicol and Thea on the spot. Since the Cavriani girl staying with them is Annalise's best friend, they'll have plenty of excuses to drop by and sort of cast an eye over the way things are going."

Arnold started twirling his knife in the opposite direction. "Knew you were going, didn't you?"

"Yep." Henry nodded. "Even before I admitted it to myself, I guess. Haven't done any traveling since the Ring of Fire-never been farther than Jena-and it's sort of a pity to waste what amounts to my first and only trip to Europe, I suppose. I'd better go see something outside West Virginia County and the middle of Thuringia before this hip gives out, if I want to see it at all."

***

"Good news about Orville Beattie and Mark Early."

Ed smiled broadly. "I really enjoyed that phone call I made to Lisa this morning. And I have to admit that I stood right there while Tanya radioed it into Mike Stearns' office in Magdeburg, pretending that I could hear Susan stand up and shout. I was principal when Mark and Susan graduated. Three years apart, but my stint covered them both. And all three of Orville and Lisa's kids. Shane-he's the youngest-was finishing his sophomore year the spring that the Ring of Fire hit and I had to turn things over to Len Trout."

He paused a minute.

Arnold raised an imaginary glass. "Absent friends."

Ed nodded. "So, yeah, it felt real good." He looked at Arnold. "Real, real, good. Thanks for coming down from Magdeburg to back me up on handling this. Did Tanya get the press release out?"

"First thing. And I phoned Henry. Any word about Wes and Clara? Or the abbot?"

Ed shook his head. "No. Well, not yet."

"Do you think we really ought to let Henry go if things don't calm down over there in the next couple of days? The people who did this-some of them, at least-could still be in Buchenland County. Could make another try. The mayor of Grantville would make a tempting target."

"Right now, I don't think we could stop him. He's gone into his old-fashioned stump speaker mode. Even…"

"Even what?"

"Tried to talk young Muselius from over at Countess Kate's into going along to translate for him. Henry's not one to overestimate the quality of his German. Muselius can't go. The beginning of the school year is too busy. But he's persuaded one of Kastenmayer's sons, Cunz, the one who's about to finish up his law degree at the University of Jena, into doing it. Muselius also talked the boy's exam committee into accepting a paper analyzing the trip as his honors thesis in constitutional law under Arumaeus, so he won't have wasted a semester."

Bellamy shook his head. "I'm not surprised. I've met Muselius, several times. Golden-tongued, that young man."

"Is young Kastenmayer?"

"What?"

"Golden-tongued?"

"The boy knows a half-dozen different languages, they say. That wouldn't mean he's a good public speaker, necessarily. But going into law, with his dad a preacher… he might be. The way they do the schools here, he's at least bound to have had a lot of debate practice. Disputations, they call them."

Ed nodded. "If so, he can double up as the PR man. Run the press conferences."

Johann Conrad Kastenmayer, generally known as Cunz for all purposes other than his formal, legal, signature, was surprised that he had been invited to this meeting.

He had met Charles Jenkins the Younger, of course. He was the one who was always called Chip, much as he himself was called Cunz. Chip was also a law student at Jena. The law school was not really very large. All the students knew one another.

Now he was in Chip's father's parlor, with Chip's sister holding out a tray and offering him a choice between coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and beer. He thought a moment. She was named Melissa, like the famous Ms. Mailey, but everyone seemed to call her Missy.

Really, he would prefer beer. Probably.

However, he had never tasted oriental tea and might not get another chance to taste it for quite some time. It was very expensive. The Kastenmayer household in the rectory at St. Martin's in the Fields could not afford to do expensive, as the up-timer young people expressed it. Neither could the Kastenmayer sons in Jena afford to do expensive. So, in the interest of furthering his liberal education.. . He reached out and took a cup of tea.

In some ways, visiting Grantville was almost like taking a miniature grand tour. Which he would also never be able to afford to do, he supposed. As soon as he got his degree, he would have to find a job-take some of the burden off his father and start making a positive contribution. It was noble of his oldest brother Matthaeus to follow a vocation into the pastorate like their father. But it didn't pay very much. Martin's position as an assistant city clerk didn't pay much more. And with Andrea's elopement, which meant that this year the parish was going to have to pay for a second teacher in the primary grades, there was no prospect that Papa was going to get a raise. But this… Visiting Erfurt and Frankfurt didn't precisely constitute a grand tour, but maybe a mini-tour. They were larger cities than he'd ever seen before.

One thing you could say for going into law, it usually paid pretty well. Cunz pulled his mind back to the conversation swirling around him. Only to discover that someone was asking him what he thought about it. Which was certainly not something for which he had prepared himself. It was much more surprising than his being invited in the first place.

What was the it about which he had been asked?

He uttered a few reasonably coherent sentences on the theme that Mayor Dreeson's trip to Buchenland should have great value in making the former Franconian territories feel themselves more of an integral part of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. He added a few comments in regard to the outcome of the Ram Rebellion. He prayed that he hadn't made a total fool of himself.

Apparently not. The man who had asked, Herr Stull, nodded and turned to someone else, who said, "He'll do."

Missy Jenkins, who had astonished him by sitting down between himself and her father as soon as she had distributed the beverages, leaned over and whispered, "Good save."

He made a resolution to be attentive at all times for the remainder of this tour.

"There's no reason at all to make that big a deal out of it." Henry Dreeson, being a small town American at heart, with the resulting conviction that he really didn't need any such thing as a bodyguard, or whatever the military types wanted to call it, was taking a stand. "I don't need a fancy escort to make the trip over to Fulda. All I'm going to do is talk to a few city councils about my experiences in local government and then meet Ronnie. The government of West Virginia County has agreed to loan me an ATV and they'll provide enough fuel to get me there and back, as long as the party's willing to reimburse them for the expense. I'll need to find a driver. My hip's not up to driving any distance on these down-time roads. I won't get lost, either. For one thing, we'll be sticking to the main roads. In case we have to detour, I'm going to take Wackernagel, the courier, along with me in the ATV. He makes the circuit all the time, so he knows the roads well, and I'm pretty sure that he'll have a hoot riding in a car rather than riding a horse for a change." He smiled at everyone else in the room. "Why, Wackernagel might even enjoy learning to drive."

"Henry, what the hell!" Joe Stull practically exploded. "They've been taking our people over there prisoner!"

"Then Utt can give me a bodyguard once we get there. He's got a whole regiment at Fulda. No point in dragging a bunch of people from here all the way over there."

"Two ATVs," Ed Piazza said. "It's a rough road and if the one you're riding in breaks down, we don't want you stranded. The schedule's too tight. The SoTF will provide the second one and pay for the fuel. And since it's going, it might as well have people in it. The driver, you, Cunz, and Wackernagel in the first one. The driver and three other guys in the second one. And the army picks the guys."

Henry eyed him. "What kind of guys?"

"Mechanics. Really tough mechanics."

"You've got that 'I'm the principal' look on your face, Ed."

"I am the principal. Or, at least, the president, even if that doesn't give me quite as much authority." Ed grinned. "Two ATVs or you don't go, important politics or not."

"Still no word about the abbot?" Annabelle passed over a dish of sliced pears.

Ed shook his head. "He seems to have dropped off the map. We don't question people under torture, of course, in the SoTF. But Derek and his people sure have questioned those guys, the imperial knights like von Schlitz who were involved in the conspiracy. Up one side and down the other. They think that they genuinely don't know where he is. But, probably, not in Fulda any more. The guys who took him were probably Irish mercenaries. Who knows who was paying them?"

"At least you got to spread tidings of comfort and joy about Wes Jenkins and Clara Bachmeier. Or are they Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, now?"

"Bachmeierin."

"What?"

"She insists on the feminine form of her surname. On the grounds that she is not male. Trust me. I still remember my first interview with her very well. She's as stubborn as Veleda Riddle. Just as ladylike and just as stubborn."

"That's… Well, I'm glad she's on our side, in that case."

"I think that the word you want is 'daunting.' Or maybe 'dauntless.' She's dauntless herself and it's very daunting to everyone who gets on her bad side."

"Odd sort of woman for Wes to marry."

"Guess he managed to get on her good side."

"It doesn't sound like she's even a little bit like Lena was."

Ed thought a minute before he answered that one. "Maybe he learned something, the first time."

Chapter 7

Grantville

State of Thuringia-Franconia

Dear Nathan,

Chandra Prickett wished that she still had a pencil with an eraser on it. She still had plenty of pencils. There had been a lot of pencils around the house when the Ring of Fire hit. A whole ceramic pot full of pencils of various lengths. Plus a hand-cranked pencil sharpener, which still worked and didn't show any signs of quitting. And, when she had looked around and made an inventory of their stuff, a lot more pencils here and there. Like two in the kitchen, one fastened to the refrigerator with a magnet and one tied onto a hook screwed into the wall by the sink where she kept her grocery list.

She wasn't going to run out of pencils any time soon.

Ball point pens were another story.

None of the pencils had erasers any more, though. Since Nathan went down to Suhl last year, she had chewed them all off while she was trying to write letters to him.

Dear Nathan.

No. She'd already written that.

What could she say, if she didn't want to sound whiny? She hated sounding whiny.

Dad got married again over in Fulda, which is why I'm writing an extra letter, in spite of what postage costs. She's Clara Bachmeierin from Badenburg. She's a widow and has been over there for eighteen months or so, helping the administration handle the abbot, after he went back.

Deflect what she could deflect.

So they've known each other quite a while and they've been working together. Mom's been gone three years, now.

The metal band on the top of this pencil had tooth marks. Doc Sims had told her not to bite on those any more, after she went in to have a chipped tooth smoothed down.

We'd been sort of wondering if he'd ever take the big step again, so Lenore and I are both real happy for him. I hope that you will be, too. Bryant's in Magdeburg, of course, so Lenore doesn't know what he thinks about it. Weshelle is getting to be a big girl, now. She's already pulling herself up on the furniture.

Dad's going to transfer back to Grantville, to take over the SoTF consular service for Ed Piazza. Clara will be coming back with Dad. Maybe you could take a couple of weeks off, over the holidays, and come meet her, especially since I hear that you're being transferred to Frankfurt.

That was okay. It didn't say, "Our little twin girls are now nine months old and you haven't been home to see them yet." It didn't sound whiny.

We all hope and pray that the war will be over pretty soon.

That was safe enough.

Mikey has started all-day kindergarten and I've put Tom into preschool three mornings a week this year. The money you're having put into our bank account every month is plenty to cover that. I'm sending him to the St. Veronica's school that Mayor Dreeson's wife Ronnie runs. We all hope that she gets home safe after the problems this summer. I sort of decided about the school at the last minute, after I talked to Paige. She thinks it's better for the kids to start learning German right away, these days.

That was good. That would tell him that she expected to be here in Grantville the whole school year. That she wasn't going to do something he didn't want her to, like packing up all four kids and going off on her own to wherever he was working.

I hope that the guys who have their wives in Suhl now invite the rest of you over for home cooking every now and then.

Your Uncle Simon will be home from Italy, pretty soon. Aunt Mary Ellen says they should be here early next month. He's coming back with Ron and Gerry Stone. He must have had an exciting time there with Father Mazzare, especially in Rome this summer. I wonder what it's like to meet a pope.

Well, anyway, that's the news this week. I guess I'd better quit, since I'm coming to the end of this page and don't want to start another one, what with paper and postage costing what they do these days.

Love from all of us.

Chandra.

She'd drop it at the post office on her way to pick up Tom from St. Veronica's.

So she wouldn't cry, because she didn't want Pam or Bernita to see tears on her cheeks.

She didn't have a job that was keeping her in Grantville. She was a plain vanilla housewife. Why was Nathan so dead set against having her join him?

Suhl

Dear Chandra,

Nathan Prickett sighed. He didn't want to write this.

I know I'm not much of a correspondent. But look, we've been married for going on ten years now, and I can see through you like a pane of glass.

He looked down at Chandra's latest letter again. Transparent, all right. Hint, hint, hint. Why couldn't she leave it be?

He wanted another beer, but he wasn't going to have one. He was strict with himself about that, come what may. Some guys claimed that a man couldn't become a drunk on beer, but it wasn't true. A mug with lunch and a mug with supper. That was going to be it, Ring of Fire or no Ring of Fire. As far as that went, it was twice as much as he used to drink, back home.

He'd had his life planned. Graduate from high school, go into the army for four years, go to college. It hadn't worked quite that way, but pretty close. He'd come out after three years with a skilled trade; joined the Army Reserves, gotten a job in manufacturing in Fairmont, and concentrated on making foreman as fast as possible. He'd done it, too, all the while living with his parents in Grantville, saving his money, going to church regularly, playing baseball for fun. Baseball was pretty cheap fun. Girlfriends, but only one really serious.

He hadn't planned on Chandra. She just happened to him. He must have seen her now and then when she was a kid, but he hadn't noticed her. Then all of a sudden, one day, there she was. It had been sort of like finding a sinkhole in his front yard. The size sinkhole that can swallow a man's car whole and then start working on the house.

No, he sure hadn't planned on Chandra. He'd done his best to fit her into his plans, though. By the time he was close to making foreman, he started dating her, which her parents did not like much, since he was seven years older and she was still in high school. But his folks were good Methodists too, like Wes and Lena, and nobody could say that he wasn't a responsible churchgoing, man.

After he proposed and she accepted, the fall of her senior year, Wes Jenkins had a talk with them about being willing to go ahead and pay for her to go to college after they married, if Nathan was willing for her to commute to Fairmont-no big problem, since Nathan worked there anyway.

Chandra had gotten a bit antsy. The "go to college while married" idea had appealed to her some. He'd had to get up on his high horse about "I'm able to support my own wife" and say "no way, Jose." After all, now he was planning for Chandra to work for four or five years after they married, which should cover the extra expense of buying their own place instead of living with their respective parents, and by that time, he should have enough ahead to start his own business.

She'd almost backed out of the engagement after that, so he started putting on a bit of steam in the sex area and like the good little girl she was, she wasn't about to let him go even a half inch further in any direction than they had already gone until she actually had a wedding ring on the third finger of her left hand. And that was the kind of girl he had wanted as a wife, really. So she went along with his ideas and they got married right after she graduated.

Putting on the steam hadn't been a bit of a problem, the way he had reacted to her then. He still did now, for that matter, every time he laid eyes on her, every time he laid hands on her, every time he laid her, which was what had caused the current mess.

Mikey arrived four and a half years after they got married, right on schedule. They'd saved every cent Chandra earned up to that point and had enough for a really good down payment on a house in Grantville. It wouldn't have gone nearly as far in Fairmont.

When the Ring of Fire came, Chandra was five months along with Tom. She was being a stay-at-home mom, the way they'd planned. He'd put enough money in the bank to leave the factory and go out on his own. Then it happened and everything fell in. He didn't care for unplanned events and you had to say that the Ring of Fire was as unplanned as things came. Well, everything collapsed except that Tom was a second boy, so they had the perfect family, exactly what he had hoped for.

He'd found work right away, with the Mechanical Support Division, but it didn't pay anything like what he was earning before, and the mortgage on the house was on contract with the seller who made it through the Ring of Fire too, so they didn't have any windfall there. They had to keep paying. And it looked like he wouldn't ever have a business of his own, even though he at least had the savings account in the Grantville bank, so he didn't lose the money.

They seemed to be doing okay, not losing ground, at least, but then, hell, he couldn't keep his hands off her when they were right there in the same house and bed, so she got pregnant again. Unplanned.

Probably what he said when she told him hadn't been the best comment he could have come up with. "How could you possibly do anything so stupid?" Especially considering that it took two to tango. He was ashamed of himself later, but couldn't make himself apologize, so they sort of jogged along until he got the chance to buy into this new firm in Suhl and took it. She'd been six months along, then.

The third pregnancy turned out to be twins. Girls.

It had been nice of her to name them for both of their moms, and the "Sue" and "Lou" rhyme for the middle names was sort of cute. He wished…

Damn it, he was staying out of Grantville and Chandra was staying in Grantville; that was the end of it. He didn't have to worry that she would start fooling around on him, not the kind of girl she was. The business in Suhl was doing well. They were opening up the new branch in Frankfurt. He'd already gone back and forth a couple of times because he was in charge of training the militia there on how to use the new weapons. He was making a lot more money here than he ever could have again if he had stayed at home and he liked all the guys he was working with. The down-timers had as much energy and smarts as any up-timer he had ever met. But he wasn't going to give in to her whining about wanting to come and join him. No way was he going to end up fathering a dozen children like some backwoods redneck hillbilly, digging his own grave with his penis, never being able to better himself. He was supporting her and the kids, wasn't he? The two extras as well as Mikey and Tom? What more could she reasonably ask?

I've told you my reasons. You know yourself that schools for the kids are better in Grantville. They can have real teachers, not home schooling, and I'm not about to start in on health care again.

Give it up, honey. I'm working out of town now and you're staying put. And I don't have the time or money to come running back and forth to Grantville on vacation, the stage the business is in now. Not even when I'm on my way from here to Frankfurt. I go down the other way, south of the Thuringerwald.

But I will write Mom and Dad oftener. Promise.

Say Hi! to Wes and the new bride for me. I hope, given the way it happened, that the old biddies like Veda Mae Haggerty aren't giving you and Lenore too much grief. That could get embarrassing. I guess I'll meet her when I meet her, more or less.

Love to all of you.

Nathan

That was about all there was to say.

He picked up another sheet of paper.

Dear Don Francisco.

He always felt like it wasn't very polite of him to write to the don that way, but the don said himself that it was correct and "Don Nasi" would be the wrong form, even though a lot of people in Grantville used it because they were trying to be polite themselves.

Nathan sighed. A guy could get himself into the damnedest things, without even trying. Just because he'd already been working in Suhl and knew Ruben Blumroder when that "selling arms to the enemy" thing blew up eighteen months ago…

Somehow or other-he still couldn't quite figure how it had happened-Nathan had gotten talked into becoming Nasi's agent in Frankfurt. Or one of his agents. Nathan was pretty sure he wasn't the only one. Don Francisco was the kind of guy for whom the saying "have a second string to your bow" came automatically.

Grantville

"Thanks for coming over, Paige. I didn't want to embarrass you but

… I guess I was to the point where I had to ask."

"It's okay, Chandra." Paige Modi picked up her cup. "You were bound to be thinking about it, I guess, considering that some of the other Grantville guys who've spent so much time out of town are ditching their first wives. But honestly, there's not a shred of anything. Not so much as a whisper that Nathan has been seeing some other woman down in Suhl. Or over in Frankfurt, when he goes there for Blumroder."

Chandra stirred some honey into her herbal tea. She didn't really like the taste all that much, but that was what she had. There wasn't a lot of point in spending money for sugar. It was a lot more expensive than honey. The down-time sugar tasted a little funny, too, and was sort of a tannish-gold color.

"What's weird," she said, "is that I don't know whether that makes me feel better or worse. I know that it makes me feel more up in the air. If Nathan was seeing someone else… Well, at least I'd know why this is happening."

Chapter 8

Magdeburg

"Come on in. Good lord, Ed. You're sopping wet." Claire Hudson, Mike Stearns' executive assistant and all-around handywoman, threw a towel at him.

Ed Piazza started patting himself dry. "Evening, Claire. How's Duke? How are Stoffel and the girls? It's not cold out and I was nice and dry till a half hour ago, so don't worry. The roof of the litter that I hired at the train station had a leak that collected the water and poured it down on the seat through a little hole. Looked to me like someone had tried to stub a cigarette out on the canvas. The world is full of assholes. Before I go up and change, what's the word from Amsterdam? Considering that I've been on the train all day."

"Nothing exciting this evening. I told the operator that if he got word on army radio and he didn't send a runner right over to tell me, I'd make him sorry. So I guess Rebecca hasn't had the baby yet."

"Mike must be wearing out the floors, pacing back and forth."

"Wearing Becky out too, I expect. She's probably thinking that she had it easy with Sephie, him being off fighting a battle when she went into labor. Talk about a worrywart. You'd think she's the only woman in the world who ever had a baby."

"He's not in love with the rest of them." Ed yawned. "I'll go up and change into something dry before we eat. Same room?"

"Same room, and your clean stuff is in the trunk. Put the wet clothes in the bin at the top of the stairs. Trina will take it down to the kitchen. That's one of her chores."

"Any hint about names yet?"

"He's been so closemouthed you can't believe it. National security has absolutely nothing on how tight he's been playing this to his chest."

Ed put down the tote bag he was carrying. "Here's something for you from Annabelle."

"Orange carrots! God bless the woman. The white and purple ones I can buy here taste pretty much the same, but I can't convince myself that they look right on my plate. It's weird to get carrot flavor when you're looking at a vegetable that resembles a turnip. Kiss her for me when you get home."

"Be glad to."

Ed put down his fork. "It's not as if everyone hadn't expected it. Constantin Ableidinger is definitely running for the USE Parliament from Bamberg district on the Ram Platform. He's coming through Grantville on his way back from Fulda, to work on developing a common slate of candidates in the upcoming election. We want to have one worked out and ready to go the minute Mike names the date."

Arnold Bellamy scribbled something on the clipboard lying next to his plate. "Are Ableidinger and his people going to merge into the Fourth of July Party?"

"They'd rather keep some level of independence. 'Closely allied' and agreeing not to ever run candidates against each other in the same race is good enough for me. I sure wouldn't want to see the Crown Loyalists picking up a seat on a plurality because we split the vote between us. Mostly, I guess, they'll run their people south of the Thuringerwald and we'll run ours north of it. One thing we'll have to work out is what will be happening around Suhl and thereabouts. Not to mention Buchenland. I expect that's one reason he's been up there, touring around with Henry. Sounding things out."

"Who are we putting up for Becky's seat if she's willing to bow out?" Claire asked. "I swear that I haven't heard anything. Not a word. Or don't we know yet?"

"Well, we haven't approached Becky and Mike about it yet. That's one of the reasons I'm headed to Amsterdam next. But a lot of the up-timers would like to run Chad Jenkins if the seat opens up."

"We could do a lot worse. He supported Simpson in 1631, so he might appeal to some of the conservative-side-of-the-middle-of-the-road types who are skittish about Mike. He's pretty conservative himself. In fact, I was always surprised that he wasn't a Republican, up-time."

Ed chuckled. "Given his druthers, I'm sure he would have been. But Chad knew better to think that being a Republican would help him much in the middle of Bobby-Byrd-Land."

"How would it go over with the new majority in Grantville, though, having an up-timer succeed to a down-timer's seat?"

"Chad's good at schmoozing. And there's no really suitable down-timer in West Virginia County who's both available and willing to run. They're…"

"All still too busy making money. Recouping their war losses." Arnold put a word into the conversation. "Give it five years before one of them starts to eye Becky's seat. What about the House?"

"Don't know yet. I want to float a few possibilities past Mike while I'm here."

"UMWA people?" Claire asked.

Ed shook his head. "Actually, they're all down-timers I've been working with. I don't know if Mike has even met any of them. He sure hasn't worked with them, not closely at least. I was talking to Chad and Henry the other day. Henry said, 'You know, my grandpa used to have a saying. Sometimes I feel like I've been hung out on a line to dry and then plumb forgot. ' That's the way it is, this year. Even looking at it from the province-wide level, sometimes I feel like Grantville's been hung out on a line to dry and plumb forgot. All the Fourth of July Party bigwigs are in Magdeburg now, busy with Gustav, busy with national politics. International politics, when it comes to the Congress of Copenhagen. They don't even have time to think about the town long enough to give Henry and the others the okays that they need to move on.' "

Claire sighed. "Henry has a point, you know. As mayor. Before the Ring of Fire, our town was dying. Slower than the other little towns around Fairmont, but dying. All the ambitious kids leaving after high school-well, the way Duke did, and our kids. That's why they were left up-time. We came back when Duke retired. Then it came back to life after the Ring of Fire, and he got to oversee that. Now it's dying again. The ambitious people, a lot of them, moving out. Turning into a backwater. He's having to watch that happen, too. He's got to be hurting."

"He has a point about getting the okays. We talk a lot about politics from the bottom up. But the truth is, as far as the party is concerned, Mike and the UMWA have kept it pretty tightly buttoned up from the top down, when it comes to nominations and such. He just.. ." Arnold's voice trailed off.

Claire finished the sentence. "Wants to work with people he trusts. Can't blame him for that."

Things went on from there.

"And that's the last I've heard from Steve Salatto about the way things are falling out in Franconia."

Someone knocked on the door. Francisco Nasi glanced up, pushing his glasses back to their proper place on the bridge of his nose. "What is it?"

Samantha Burka poked her head into the room. "You and Mr. Piazza have to finish up now, Sir. The Gustav taking him to Amsterdam will be leaving in less than two hours."

Chapter 9

Grantville

"I'll get it."

Annalise jumped up from the dinner table and dashed for the front hall. "Hello. Yes, Mrs. Piazza? They're out! They're out of Basel? They're okay? Really all right? Not hurt or anything. You're sure? Just a minute."

She left the receiver on the telephone stand and ran back into the dining room. "They're out of Basel. Oma and Mrs. Simpson and the archduchess. They're okay. Absolutely okay. Henry, can you come to the phone?"

She turned right around and dashed again, so she could pick up the receiver again as fast as possible. She didn't want Mrs. Piazza to think that she'd hung up before Henry could get there. "Don't go away. He's coming right now. Thea had to get his cane for him."

Denise Beasley spread out the morning newspaper on the kitchen table in her father Buster's trailer. Her best friend Minnie Hugelmair read over her shoulder. "Isn't that a hoot? Mary Simpson and the archduchess getting into a plane with the new king in the Netherlands so Jesse Wood could fly them off to Amsterdam." The girl's very pretty face twisted into a half-scowl. "I've never flown. I bet I would have, by now, if the Ring of Fire hadn't happened. Maybe we still can, someday."

"Oh, sure," Minnie commented. "I can see it now. We get so famous that a plane lands out in your dad's storage lot to take us someplace exciting. Not likely. Just not. How about checking my algebra homework before we leave for school?"

The noise in the Thuringen Gardens was deafening. But on the evening of a day that most people had spent talking about this kind of news, Henry felt like he had to show up. Flying the flag, or something. The Gardens were a kind of symbol for Grantville by now, he supposed. If you really had something to celebrate, you celebrated it at the Gardens. Not to mention-this was where he'd met Ronnie, in the first place.

"Veronica's still with Horn's army, then?" Tony Adducci waved at Thecla to bring him another beer.

"She'll be on her way home by the end of the week, they tell me. Horn's sending her by boat as soon as he can arrange to get her on one with all the necessary safe-conducts and such for passing through the region held by Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. Down the Rhine and then up the Main."

Chad Jenkins nodded. "Bernhard's being cooperative, they say."

"Just hope that it lasts."

Joe Stull grinned. "So, Henry, are you going to climb into that ATV to make the tour of the towns in Buchenland before the snow flies?"

"Yep."

"We got a new message in from Fulda right before I left the office," Ed Piazza said.

"What?"

"They're suggesting that since Veronica will be landing at Frankfurt, you ought to extend the tour. Go on down the Kinzigtal and meet her there. There are bits and pieces of Buchenland County along the route until you get as far as Hanau."

Martin Wackernagel finished chewing a bite of pretzel. "Not a bad idea. It's a pretty trip. Not a very good road, but a really pretty trip, especially in the fall when the leaves are turning. I go that road all the time. The Reichsstrasse."

"What a hellish racket." Missy clamped her hands over her ears. "Maybe they should have waited and not had last month's parade until they got Mrs. Simpson and Mrs. Dreeson back. That would have made for a few more floats."

"It would have saved a lot of beer, too." Denise smirked. "Most of the guys are going to end up just as drunk tonight as they did after the parade. First they strut and then they swill. It's not as if any of them here had anything to do with what was going on in Basel, but to hear them talk, you'd think that the SoTF Reserves rode into the city with Don Fernando-the king in the Netherlands, whatever he's called at the moment-and raised the siege at the embassy."

"Maybe we should go home early. It's not as if there's anyone here we're interested in, and we're not close enough to Dad and Mayor Dreeson to overhear anything political." Missy turned around and tapped Pam Hardesty's shoulder. "Pam? Are you ready to go?" Then, "Pam? Is something wrong?"

Pam shook her head, eyes narrow. "No. Not really. I just spotted one of Velma's less pleasant old boyfriends, over there. Take a sighting past Wackernagel, then a little to the left and four tables toward the door. I don't want to walk past him. Is there enough room, anywhere, that we could get out one of the other doors?"

Minnie stood up, swiveling her head. "Not right now. We'd better wait a bit."

Missy frowned at Pam. "He didn't…?"

"He didn't. But not for lack of trying. Talk about a nasty, nasty, man. Fish bait."

Denise's nouns and adjectives were considerably more colorful than that, ending up with, "Maybe you'd better let Daddy give you some lessons in dirty fighting. You ought to see what Mom can do."

"Benny's a good man," Minnie said slowly. "His sister Betty's husband seems to be a good man, too, but he's been so sick ever since we came to Grantville that it's hard to tell what he'd be like if he wasn't coughing all the time. Betty likes him, though. Her son David's nice, and so is Louise's husband, but they're both about fifty, I guess. How do you tell if someone young is going to turn out to be a good man?"

"Wait until they're old," Missy suggested.

"Where's the fun in that?" Denise asked. "Just arrange things so you're in the driver's seat."

Pam looked at Minnie. "Reputation, I guess. Pay attention to what other girls say. Sometimes it does pay to listen to gossip."

"Hell," Denise said. "Listen to what the guys say. Oh, sure, men say they don't gossip. They do, though. They just call it 'shooting the breeze.' There were a bunch out in Daddy's welding shop the other day. Older guys, not our age, but it's all the same. One of them asked, 'Who did Bobby Fitz marry, anyway?' That's what they called Austin O'Meara's brother-it wasn't his name, but everyone called him that. I don't know why. None of you probably ever met him, since he moved away a dozen or so years before the Ring of Fire. But you remember Austin-the one who got killed in a fight here at the Gardens last year. Well, first one of them said it was Obie Conway's sister down in Kentucky and then they started talking about the job corps and when Bobby Fitz met her and how her folks interfered and she married someone from her dad's snake handler church instead, but after he died, Obie dropped a word to Bobby Fitz and he gave notice at his job that same afternoon and headed for Pikeville with everything he owned in his pickup."

Missy raised her eyebrows. "So?"

"There wasn't a one of them who doubted that when Bobby Fitz tore out of town, he had a respectable marriage on his mind, even if it did come with three half-grown stepsons attached. Or that he'd be good to Sandy Jo and her kids. There's a lot to be said for listening to guys who work with a man. They know how he acts if it's one of those days that started by dropping an anvil on his big toe and ended by having a big weld go wrong at the last minute."

"Yeah, maybe. But Buster's friends are old enough to tell the difference. I don't think guys our age really are." Missy looked at Minnie. "My advice is that you don't even try to tell the difference now. Just hold back for a while. I'm not planning to get serious for another ten years, at least. Not until I've finished all my education and worked for a while. Maybe not until I've traveled some, if things settle down."

Denise grinned. "No fun and games along the way."

Missy shook her head. "I don't need that kind of complication in my life right now." She looked at them solemnly. "Neither do the rest of you."

Minnie stood up. "Thecla and her flying squad of waitresses have cleared a path along the wall, on the other side of the room from where Pam's nasty man is sitting. Let's get out of here while we can."

Fulda

"A welcoming parade," Andrea Hill said. "We've got Wes and Clara back." She waved toward the head of the table. "Henry's coming. We ought to put on the biggest parade this town's ever seen. Kids from the schools. Captain Wiegand and his city militia. The whole Fulda Barracks Regiment."

Orville Beattie shook his head. "It won't fly, Andrea. We've got Wes and Clara back, but the Stift is missing its abbot and we don't even know where he is or if he's still alive. 'Hearts and minds' stuff. We've got to do something more subdued. We can't ignore the way the monks have got to be feeling."

Mark Early scratched his chin. "Maybe Henry could review the militia and the regiment out at Barracktown."

"Not a bad idea," Derek Utt said. "That way, we can pretty well secure the perimeter while Henry's up on the reviewing stand. Not that I'm expecting the farmers to try anything. The Ram Rebellion never really got violent over here, the way it did at Miltitz, and anyway, they're on our side. But we haven't caught the kidnappers and we don't know if the guys who hauled Schweinsberg away were the only ones that the archbishop of Cologne sent into our territory."

"Did he send them because he's archbishop of Cologne or did he send them because he's the brother of the duke of Bavaria?" Harlan Stull asked.

"I'm not even sure he could separate those two things in his own mind." Clara frowned. "If he wasn't Maximilian's brother, he wouldn't be an archbishop."

Wes took his glasses off and started to polish them with his handkerchief. "Is he in any position to do anything after the Essen War?"

"He's on the run," Derek conceded. "Or, at least, out of Bonn and lurking somewhere over on the other side of the Rhine. But if we've still got some of the guys he hired running around loose… And I don't know that we don't. It doesn't seem likely, but I can't be sure. A closed perimeter looks good to me."

"Make sure there's a chair for him on the reviewing stand. George Chehab says Henry's having problems with that hip again."

Derek nodded. "Sure. He can go through the new school building, too, while he's out at Barracktown. The roof is on, now, and there's glass in the windows. We can set up the lunch in the larger schoolroom. He can eat with the teachers. We've hired a second teacher for next year."

"That's that, then," Wes said, putting his glasses back on. "How are you planning to get Henry out to all the small towns and villages, Orville?"

Amsterdam

"What is it about men whose wives have just had babies that makes them look insufferably smug and oh-so-pleased with themselves?" mused Ed Piazza. "I mean, it's not as if the man did anything except get his rocks off months ago."

Mike Stearns' grin never wavered. "And you didn't?"

"Oh, sure," said Ed. "I'm just quoting my wife's none-too-admiring words addressed at me, back when."

Francisco Nasi, the only single man in the trio, shook his head. "I'm simply glad that Rebecca is well. And the girl also."

"What are you going to name her?" asked Ed.

"Kathleen," said Mike. "We decided that a long time ago. In fact, it was supposed to have been the name we gave Sephie, except we decided in the end that 'Sepharad' would be better for our first child."

The term Sepharad was the word used by Europe's Sephardic Jews to refer to the Iberian homeland from which they had been driven almost two centuries earlier. As always, Nasi was struck by the name, used as the name of a child-and, still more so, by the complexities of the gentile father who had chosen that name. Complexities which had, in the end, produced something as simple and clear-cut as Nasi's own firm allegiance to the man.

But it was a complex world, after all. And there was always this, too-working for Michael Stearns was invariably an interesting experience. Sometimes, even an exhilarating one.

"Kathleen," said Ed, rolling the name. "After a relative?"

Mike's grin got a bit crooked. "Uh, no. It was my ex-fiancee's name."

Ed looked a bit startled. Nasi, who knew the story, said: "The woman who died in the car crash. In California."

Ed was still looking startled. "And Becky didn't mind?"

"It was her suggestion, in fact," said Mike.

That led Francisco to reflect on the complexities of the woman Rebecca Abrabanel. With some regrets, even. Had she not married Mike Stearns, she might have wound up marrying Francisco himself.

Possibly. That had been his family's plan, at least. But what was done, was done, and Nasi was not a man given to fretting over the past.

Speaking of which-complexities, that is…

"Is it possible to speak to her?" he asked. "Or is she maintaining seclusion?"

Mike's grin got very crooked, now. "Yeah, sure. We'll have to manage something discreet, though. Becky maintains most of the rituals and customs, but not all of them, especially the ones she thinks are-her words, not mine-'stupid and pointless leftovers from tribal pastoralism.' But she tries not to rub anybody's nose in it."

Nasi chuckled. "Especially in Amsterdam, whose rabbis are notoriously rigid."

" 'Reactionary scoundrels,' is the phrase Becky herself uses to describe them." Mike shrugged. "She doesn't care at all what they think. Still, most Jews in the city are religiously very conservative, if not always politically, and she doesn't see any point in needlessly irritating them. So, although she's not maintaining the forty days of seclusion, she's not flaunting the fact either. Come by our place tonight, after dark."

Nasi nodded. Mike cocked his head quizzically.

"What do you need to talk to her about? If it's something personal, of course, you can ignore the question."

"No, it's political," said Ed. "And you should be part of the discussion anyway. The problem is with Becky's seat in the SoTF Congress. She's been gone for a long time, Mike. Is she planning to come back to Grantville? If so, we'll figure on running her again as the candidate of the Fourth of July Party. But, if she's not coming back-or not coming back soon-we really need to run somebody else. We just can't keep that seat held for somebody in absentia."

Mike scratched his jaw. "Yeah, I understand. Becky and I have talked about it, but-what with this and that and this and that-"

"It's been a hectic few months," Ed said, chuckling.

"-we never came to any conclusions. And, yes, I can see where it'd be a problem for the party in Thuringia."

"We'll be by tonight, then. In the meantime…" Ed winced. "I suppose we may as well go see Gretchen."

Mike frowned. "What's the problem? She's not hard to talk to-at least, if you can pry yourself through the small mob of CoCers who are usually surrounding her." He glanced at his watch. "And, this time of day, that's where you'll usually find her. At the CoC headquarters downtown."

"Well… this is a personal matter. Henry Dreeson asked us to talk to her while we were here. He's wondering-and he's getting pretty damn dyspeptic about it-when Gretchen's planning to come home and start taking care of that mob of kids of hers. She's been gone just as long as Becky, you know."

"Oh." Now, Mike made a face. "Yeah. Good luck. The old saw comes to mind. 'Better you than me.' "

That made his grin re-appear.

"That's really a pretty disgusting grin," Ed observed.

In the event, though, Gretchen wasn't belligerent. In fact, she looked downright shame-faced when Ed finished passing on the message from Henry.

"Well, yes, I know. But… we've been very busy…" She made a fluttery sort of gesture, very out of character for Gretchen. "The struggle against reaction…"

Ed just waited. Under the circumstances, that seemed the wisest course.

Eventually, Gretchen stopped muttering and mumbling about the needs of the struggle and started muttering and mumbling noises on the subject of returning to Grantville. After a couple of minutes or so, Ed decided he could excavate enough of those vague phrases to mollify Henry.

For a while, anyway. But, by then, all sorts of things might happen. The newly-arrived cousin might turn into the reincarnation of Mary Poppins or… Whazzername, the great governess played by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. The one who wound up marrying von Trump. Von Trapp?

Or, horses might learn to sing. Or, Gretchen might actually tear herself away from the struggle against reaction and the forces of darkness long enough to come home to Grantville and do something with that gaggle of kids.

Who was to say? All Ed had agreed to do was pass on the message. Which, he'd done.

"I'll tell Henry," he said stoutly.

Rebecca seemed a bit shame-faced herself, that night, after Ed raised the problem of her seat in the SoTF Congress.

"Yes, I understand. You may tell our people back in Grantville that I think it would be best if I simply resigned from the seat." She glanced at her husband. "Michael and I… well, we do not wish to be parted again. And he must remain in Magdeburg. Even if he loses the election, as we expect, he will have to lead the opposition."

She looked back at Ed. "So, we have decided. I will go to Magdeburg also. And if my father is willing, we will ask him to move in with us."

Ed nodded. He didn't ask about Mike's mother, since he knew full well she'd be quite unwilling to leave Grantville even if she wasn't an invalid. But that wouldn't be a major problem, he didn't think, with all the support she had in the town.

And it was none of his business anyway. The political issue had been resolved. "All right," he said. "You might consider becoming active politically in Magdeburg."

Mike and Rebecca both smiled. "As it happens," Mike said, "Gunther Achterhof has been pestering us for weeks now to agree to let Becky run for the House of Commons from one of Magdeburg's districts."

Ed's eyes widened. "The USE parliament?"

"Yup."

"But…"

"Exactly what I said!" exclaimed Rebecca. Her hands fluttered much the way Gretchen's had earlier than day. "I've never lived in the city-anywhere in the province. Only even visited just a few times. I could just manage to move there in time for the election. The idea seems absurd."

Mike, on the other hand, was looking smug again. "Who cares? Gunther sure doesn't-and he says nobody else will either. If we run Becky, he says she'll win in a landslide."

Nasi cleared his throat. "I have to say, I agree with Achterhof. Magdeburg province is even more-ah, I will say 'July-Fourthish' rather than 'radical,' just to avoid haggling-than the State of Thuringia-Franconia." His eyes got a little unfocused. "I'm quite familiar with the subject, you know. I estimate she'd get at least two-thirds of the vote, in any district in the province. If she ran in the city itself, she'd almost certainly go unopposed. The Crown Loyalists have given up there, for all practical purposes."

"I'll be damned," said Ed. He realized, not for the first time, that because he'd always remained in Grantville since the Ring of Fire that he had a tendency to underestimate the impact that the time-transplanted Americans were having on the seventeenth century. In some places, at any rate.

"Anything else?" asked Mike.

"No. Unless you'd like to hear the latest Grantville gossip."

"Oh, horrors," said Becky, leaning forward. "But start with something pleasant."

"Pleasant, it is-at least, if you enjoy the exploits of rambunctious girls. You know Denise Beasley, don't you?"

"Such a sprightly lass," said Becky. "What did she do now?"

On the Reichsstrasse between Arnstadt and Erfurt

Wackernagel was doing explanations at the front of the first ATV. Cunz Kastenmayer was doing explanations at the back of the rear ATV. The drivers were standing by the doors, pointing at first one thing and then another. The soldiers, who were standing around, trying to look casual, were surrounded by a lot of boys and a few girls who had already had their turn in the vehicles but wanted to know more about how they worked.

Henry Dreeson was on a bench, leaning back against a tree, enjoying the shade and letting them have at it.

There hadn't been this much excitement when they stopped in Badenburg, even though they'd done a press conference. The people in Badenburg saw various kinds of motorized this-and-that almost every day. Beyond there, though, even on the way up to Arnstadt, the first day out, this had happened every time Wackernagel called a stop. Which he did at about every good-sized village.

Henry didn't mind admitting that he appreciated the frequent stops. Not just because his hip ached, even though it did. The prostate gland wasn't what it used to be, either. Who used to sing that song? Rosemary Clooney. "This ole house…"

He hummed a couple of lines. That must have been fifty years ago, give or take a couple. Right about the time he and Annie got married. Before he understood in his bones what it was about.

Over by the ATVs a boy, ten years old maybe, blew the horn and let out a whoop of delight.

Henry had been surprised at how much interest there was in his tour. Wackernagel said that if he was doing a good-will tour, he might as well do it right from the start and all the way over. People in the villages, both between Badenburg and Erfurt and on the Imperial Road from Erfurt to Fulda, had all seen up-time vehicles going back and forth before. Lots of times. They had not, very often, seen one of them stopped, where they could take a closer look, with a driver who was willing to explain how things worked. Much less passengers who were willing to vacate the premises and let them climb in and out, let the boys put their hands on the steering wheel and go vroom for a while, or anything else of the sort.

It was sort of restful, as long as people were more interested in the cars than they were in him. He had a feeling that was going to stop once they got over into Buchenland.

Tonight they'd be staying in Erfurt. Probably no curious kids there-Erfurt had a lot of trucks, being the central supply depot for the army-but the city council was giving a dinner for him tonight and then he'd promised to do an interview for the newspaper. Newspapers. There were three, but Cunz had told them that they all had to come to the same interview.

The difference between an interview and a press conference seemed to be that at an interview, everyone sat around a table. At a press conference, he stood up in front and the reporters sat in a row.

Tomorrow morning, Wackernagel wanted them to make a stop at a little village called Bindersleben right outside the city limits. It didn't make much driving sense to stop that soon after they got started, but apparently he knew people there and had promised some kids they could have a good look at the cars.

It was probably a good idea to do it this way, with all the stops. He was glad Wackernagel had come up with the idea. Good PR. Cunz was writing up a kind of trip diary saying what they did at every village and sending it back to the Grantville papers. It listed the names and everything of the kids who came to look at the ATVs. The Times had promised to send copies of the those issues to the villages, so parents could buy copies of the Grantville paper with their children's names in it. Ed Piazza would like that. It would make people who didn't have the time or money to visit the Grantville Fair to see machinery feel more connected to the government. That sort of stuff. It was a lot more personal than watching a truck on the road or looking up and seeing an airplane flying overhead, or even having a crystal set and hearing about it on the radio. Ed believed in personal.

Of course, Ed was thinking about the election.

And his driver was waving. On the road, again.

Someone had told him that Cardinal Richelieu had hemorrhoids. So bad that five or six years ago, when the king of France took down La Rochelle, they'd had to put some kind of a stretcher between the seats in a carriage so he could ride to the siege lying down on his stomach. Made that sort of pained expression on the man's face in all the portraits people had looked up in the encyclopedias a little more understandable, he guessed.

He was going to have the same kind of expression on his own face before he got into a bed tonight. Even with an ATV that had padded seats to ride in. It was a hell of a good thing that he wasn't trying to make this trip sitting on a hard wagon bench.

He grabbed his cane and heaved himself up.

Vacha, on the Reichsstrasse

His driver was slowing down and the car behind, the one with the soldiers riding in it, was pulling around, ahead of them. Henry looked more closely. There were a half-dozen men hanging around the little guardhouse. Those weren't kids interested in looking at cars.

Wackernagel cussed something in German. Must have been a good one, because Henry hadn't ever heard it before.

"It's a divided town," the driver said. "The crossing's always been a bone of contention between the abbots of Fulda-that's the SoTF now-and the landgraves of Hesse-Kassel, so they say. But I know for damn sure that our people cleared this motorcade with their people in advance."

"But Hesse-Kassel is in the USE. Verdammt! " One of the reasons Cunz Kastenmayer said he was glad that he'd gone into law rather than theology, aside from the money he expected to earn, was that he was free to indulge in the occasional profanity. If not in his father's hearing. "And don't think that Wilhelm V isn't making the most of it. Think how much extra acreage he grabbed for himself last spring, all the way over to the Rhine. Under color of doing a good deed for Gustav."

Henry understood them, which he felt pretty good about, considering that when the Ring of Fire happened, his German had been limited to the title of Auf Wiedersehn, Sweetheart. "California was in the United States of America too, up-time. That didn't stop them from searching cars crossing into the state and telling people they couldn't bring in any fresh fruits or vegetables."

The driver looked at him, surprised.

"I don't care what they tell you in citizenship class. We weren't perfect. No country ever has been. No country ever will be. The thing to aim at is to get it as good as you can for as many of your people as you can. We had as many arrogant assholes up-time as you have down-time. We just made a little more effort to get a grip on them, most of the time."

Kastenmayer nodded. "The greatest happiness of the greatest number," he said in English. "We covered that in the history of political philosophy class I took last year."

Henry nodded. "I hadn't ever heard it put quite that way. But it pretty much sums up the idea."

The two sets of soldiers were still arguing. But it looked like it was going to turn into a paper war rather than a shooting war.

"Can you walk a quarter of one of your up-time miles?" Wackernagel asked. "I know a family here. I stay with them overnight every trip. It's cheaper than a room in the inn. We can go over there and get something to drink. The street's wide enough that when they finish up with this"-he leaned his head in the direction of the disputing-the-right-of-way critters-"the driver can bring the car down and pick you up. He can turn around using the alley."

Henry nodded. "Sounds good to me. I can make it that far. I make it that far from the house to City Hall and back home every day, still. The hip's going bad, but I don't want all the rest of my joints to stiffen up, too. Counterproductive."

He smiled a little. That had been one of his daughter Margie's words, too.

Hesse-Kassel's head honcho yelled something when they opened the car doors. He had an accent Henry had never heard before, thick enough to cut with a knife. Not one word in four came through. That seemed to happen every time he started to think he had a handle on the language, finally. Wackernagel yelled back in the same lingo. Whatever he said, the Hessian soldiers let them walk away without any more fuss.

But they'd already held the drivers up for a couple of hours, splitting hairs. Trying to featherbed by arguing that even if an ATF didn't need to hitch up extra horses from the Hessian teamsters to help it handle these hills, they were still obliged to pay the mandatory fee for the extra team of horses. Which, since there were two ATVs, meant that they owed the fee for two teams.

Which meant that even if they left right now, which it sure didn't look like they were going to, they wouldn't be able to reach Fulda before dark. So they might as well plan to stay the night in Vacha. Nobody in his right mind would try to drive through these hill roads with nothing but headlights to see by.

Henry intended to have Wes file an official complaint with the landgrave once they got to Fulda. He wasn't a man to let himself be pushed around.

And it wasn't just him they were trying to push around. Hesse-Kassel was a Crown Loyalist, really close to Wettin, and he was insulting the SoTF. Just to see if they'd let him get away with it, probably. He wasn't exactly farting in the face of Mike Stearns in person, but that's what this kind of idiocy amounted to.

Hesse-Kassel's nose was probably out of joint because Mary Simpson and Ronnie had gotten so much publicity in the newspapers this summer while they were kiting around Bavaria with the Austrian archduchess. Which amounted to publicity for the SoTF.

Wackernagel said they could all spend the night at this family's house, where he stayed, but it would be crowded. Henry could have a bed, but he and Cunz, the drivers, and the soldiers would have to sleep on the floor.

A couple of hours before dark, though, three companies of orange-uniformed men on horses, led by Derek Utt himself, showed up in Vacha. The Fulda Barracks Regiment was thoroughly spooked by what had happened to the civilian administrators and doubly determined that it wasn't going to happen again. They'd been camping five miles or so outside of town all week and kept a couple of lookouts in an inn on the Fulda side of the town.

The lookouts had spotted the problem. One of them had slipped out, picked up his horse from a farmer's stall, and gone down to collect the whole troop.

Sergeant Hartke was now having a few words with Hesse-Kassel's border guards.

Derek moved Henry from the outside picnic table in the friendly woman's yard over to an inside parlor in the Fulda-side inn where the scouts had been staying.

Wackernagel said he'd spend the night at the house like usual and meet them at the ATVs in the morning.

Henry nodded. He supposed the woman counted on having the income from her regular customers and Wackernagel knew it. She had three little kids, that he'd seen.

That night he didn't just have the three soldiers from Grantville staying at the same motel with him. These roadside inns were really motels, when you came right down to it. He had two orange-colored guards inside his room and a couple more standing outside his door all night.

He felt a little bit ashamed that he'd kicked up such a big fuss when Piazza insisted on sending the second ATV. Utt seemed to take the problem seriously. Real seriously.

Chapter 10

Frankfurt am Main

Ron Stone wiggled his legs around. There wasn't a lot of leg room on the barge that the crew was slowly poling up the Main River.

Joachim Sandrart, sitting next to him, had a dreamy expression on his face. Joachim had been mentally counting his future money all the way down the Rhine, since their visit to Duke Henri de Rohan.

In other words, Rohan had turned out to be a reasonable man. A reasonable man who was interested in art. A reasonable man who was interested in art and had money. The ambitious young painter's dream patron, perhaps.

"When are we going to get there?" his brother Gerry asked from the narrow single seat at the back of the barge.

Ron twisted around. "Haven't you outgrown that by now?"

"Nah. It was the first thing I learned to say in German. And Italian. Well, the second, I guess. The first thing was, 'What's for supper?' "

"A couple more hours," the crew captain answered.

Gerry subsided back into silence.

"I don't suppose we have reservations," Reverend Jones said ironically. Down-time travel did not lend itself to advance reservations.

"Rohan's secretary recommended a place. The host's name is de Ron and the inn's called Zum Weissen Schwan."

Sandrart shook his head. "Don't stay at an inn. After you were so cooperative about letting me go over to meet with the duke, the least I can do is extend the hospitality of my father's house. We've got plenty of room."

"Vengeance," Ouvrard said. "We have this wonderful chance to avenge the failure of Ducos' plot to assassinate the pope in Rome. It has fallen to us, into our laps like a ripe plum. We did nothing to seek it out. The Stone brothers. Two of the three culprits are right here! To think that Antoine Delerue predicted that we were unlikely to encounter them again."

"Antoine is scarcely a prophet. Certainly not an infallible one. Count your lucky stars that they're staying at Sandrart's house," Brillard said. "And keep your face out of public view. Maybe they wouldn't recognize any of us, and wouldn't remember having ever seen us talking to Michel anywhere in Italy. But then again, one of them might. Talk about good luck. If the Sandrart son hadn't invited them, they'd be right here at the Swan and we'd be huddling in the sleeping chambers all day to avoid them."

"Another heaven-sent, predestined, foreordained, clearly God-given opportunity wasted because of Michel's…" Ouvrard shut up before Guillaume could tell him to.

"Working within the limitations that our leader has placed upon us is an exercise in humility," Locquifier said. He didn't look at his hands. These past two days, he had chewed his own fingernails down to the quick in frustration.

"At least tell Michel about it. Why did he and Antoine have to go as far away as Scotland? What can they possibly be trying to accomplish in Scotland, of all places?"

"Robert." Locquifier paused. "I will send another letter to him, explaining what has happened. After that, all we can do is wait for his further directions."

There were musicians at one end of the room. A sort of string quartet. Lots of candles in sconces reflecting off the window panes, of which there were also a lot. Downtown Frankfurt mostly looked sort of Gothic in its architecture, but it was clear that Sandrart's father had remodeled this house not too long ago. Modernized it.

There was a buffet table at the other end of the room. A big one, loaded with more food than Ron had seen in one place since the last reception he'd attended at the Barberini mansion. Off in a corner by himself, behind the table, Gerry was eating a plate of fruit and cheese and keeping one eye on Artemisia's little girl, who was standing right by the table, eating everything sweet that she could identify by the sugar crystals sprinkled on the top. That was okay.

There were polished blue and white tiles under foot. They had to be marble. Marble was a rock, when you came right down to it, and these were as hard as rocks. Joachim Sandrart's mother would start the dancing up in a few minutes, he expected, and he'd be expected to punish his feet on them. She'd be dancing with the Burgermeister. He'd be dancing with whatever girl they told him to dance with. He'd gone to a depressing number of fancy parties since that first one in Venice, and was getting, in his own opinion, depressingly good at doing what he was supposed to do at them. Bourgeois, his dad would say.

Overhead-Ron took another surreptitious glance upward. Woodcarvings and murals. The murals were a bit amateurish. He wondered it Sandrart had painted them on the ceiling in his own father's house. Maybe for practice, when he was a teenager?

Simon was sitting down, talking to a middle aged man garbed in what Ron had come to think of as the Calvinist preacher's uniform. A Geneva gown, they called it. Black pleats and a white collar. He thanked his lucky stars that Simon still had diplomatic credentials, in case the other guy took offense at some of his theological opinions.

Joachim was-he looked toward the big fireplace with its ornamental mantel-over there. Ron had met the man he was talking to, earlier in the evening. He was a banker, another Calvinist refugee from somewhere, named Philipp Milkau. The girl next to Artemisia was his daughter Johanna. Milkau's only daughter and sole heiress. Fraulein Walking-pots-of-money. The girl that Sandrart was going to marry, most likely. She was exactly the kind of wife that a promising young artist with ambitions to enter the diplomatic service needed. Paying for a reception like this a couple of times every week wouldn't even start to drain the exchequer she would bring along as a dowry.

She seemed nice enough. Pleasant looking. Good manners. Couldn't be more than about sixteen. Of course, Joachim hadn't ever met her until this week, but his relatives and her father had reached a sort of preliminary arrangement. Nothing legal, like a betrothal. An understanding that was contingent on the main parties to the agreement not taking a dislike to each other on first sight and developing an even greater loathing on longer personal acquaintance.

But they seemed to be getting along fine. She had her hand on Joachim's arm. He was sort of sniffing at her hair. Which was a good thing, Ron supposed. Sandrart said that his own family could only afford to put on a party like this once a month or so.

The Stone brothers left the city the next day. Mathurin Brillard and Robert Ouvrard made one last effort to persuade Guillaume Locquifier to allow them to go in pursuit. But Locquifier was adamant.

Michel has given us no such instructions!

It was enough to drive a man insane. Michel Ducos was far distant-they had no idea where, precisely-so how could his "instructions" possibly cover any eventuality that might develop?

Brillard and Ouvrard did not share Locquifier's adulation of Michel Ducos. Both men thought Ducos' grasp on reality was shaky, in fact. Still, they were not prepared to wage an outright rebellion. True, Ducos' "authority" was mostly a matter of prestige, nothing formal. Insofar as the organization of Huguenot zealots had an officially recognized leader, it was Antoine Delerue and not Ducos. But Ducos' force of personality was such that any dispute with him almost invariably became ferocious.

As much as Mathurin and Robert would have enjoyed getting their revenge on the Stone brothers, they didn't feel strongly enough about the issue to risk getting into a brawl with Ducos. So, off the brothers went. Not touched, not even pursued.

On the Reichsstrasse between Frankfurt and Hanau

"Philipp Milkau is being blackmailed," said Artemisia Gentileschi.

The part of the Reichsstrasse they were following this morning was headed generally uphill, a steeper grade than a person would think unless he looked back to see what he'd already climbed, so they were going slowly to spare the horses. That gave them plenty of time to talk, but the sentence that she'd just dropped on him wasn't Artemisia's ordinary horse-riding conversation.

"He is?" Ron hoped that he didn't sound too dumb.

"By some Huguenot extremist group."

Ron groaned inwardly. The last time that he'd met a Huguenot extremist, it had been at the hearing for Galileo. He didn't really want to meet any more of them.

"Why's he being blackmailed?" If the man turned out to be a pedophile or something, he definitely didn't want to get involved.

"Something involving real estate. Buying an estate called Stockau. It's over near Ingolstadt, somewhere. In Pfalz-Neuburg."

"Didn't that belong to the abominable Wolfgang Wilhelm? Before he got himself killed in the Essen War last summer?"

"That's the one. If you can think of a triangle between Augsburg, Munich, and Augsburg, it's in there."

"The south side of the river?"

Artemisia nodded. "It's noble land. So it's tax exempt, for all practical purposes. Plus being a way for Milkau to lever his family up into the nobility, if he played his cards right. But somewhere along the way, he bribed the wrong person, or didn't bribe the right person, or… something."

"Like he maybe told Wolfgang Wilhelm something that amounted to treason to get him to approve the sale?"

"You are young to be so suspicious, my friend Ron. The problem, I think, is that the purchase would have made him landsassig to an ally of Bavaria. It's a bit moot, now that General Baner has occupied Pfalz-Neuburg south of the Danube for Gustav Adolf and it's in the USE, or soon will be. But in any case, whatever the specifics, during the negotiations it was enemy territory. If the Frankfurt council finds out what he did, or was prepared to do, he will be tossed out of the city, bank and all. These…"

" 'Fanatics' is probably the right word."

"Fanatics. Yes. Zeloti. These zealots are using their knowledge to force him to finance their projects. Whatever their projects are. He is not sure. But he believes that he is probably not alone. That they are extorting money from other prominent members of the Calvinist diaspora."

"And I need to know this… why?"

"Your father is important. And rich. Therefore, you have ties to influential men in the State of Thuringia-Franconia, and through them into the highest circles of the USE. He thought that you might be able to bring the problem to the attention of the appropriate persons. Discreetly, of course. Naming no names, since you are a friend of his future son-in-law. But letting someone know of the existence of the zealots. That they have established themselves in Frankfurt."

Ron had never thought of himself as having ties into the highest circles of the USE. But if Frank could get married in the Sistine Chapel… The only important man he knew was Mr. Piazza. That was because Mr. Piazza used to be the high school principal, so everybody in Grantville knew him, pretty much. But he did know him, and Piazza was as thick as thieves with Mike Stearns. Whom he'd also actually met. Once. In a bunch of other people at the Thuringen Gardens. Everybody knew that Francisco Nasi worked for Stearns.

"I'll see what I can do."

Chapter 11

Frankfurt am Main

Nathan Prickett figured he'd done his duty to common courtesy already by looking up the other Grantvillers in Frankfurt and saying hi, letting them know where he was staying. He hadn't expected that he'd have much in common with them, except for being from Grantville, and he didn't.

Jason Waters was a newspaperman. He was here to establish an American-style newspaper. If he could get permission from the city council, that was. And from Magdeburg, since the guy who was publishing the big paper in Frankfurt now had a kind of grandfathered-in imperial monopoly that went back to the days before the Ring of Fire.

The USE parliament hadn't gotten around to abolishing monopolies yet. They probably would, but the country had only existed for less than a year and a good portion of that time, there'd been a war on. It looked like there'd be a war on a good portion of next year, too, if Gustav decided to take on Saxony and Brandenburg.

Waters was from Charlestown and only settled down in Grantville to start with because he'd married Serena Trelli. Nathan had no idea why he'd brought Ernest Haggerty with him, unless to be a gofer.

Wayne Higgenbottom was studying the post office system. Wayne was here because the Grantville post office had sent him. None of them were likely to stay long. It wasn't as if Nathan had ever gone to school with any of them. Haggerty did belong to the same church-Methodist-but he was married to Bobbie Jean Sienkiewicz, who was Catholic, and didn't attend regularly. Ernest was some kind of a cousin of Gary Haggerty and them, but not close.

Odd, but by now, after all the time he'd lived in Suhl, Nathan had more in common with Ruben Blumroder than he did with some of the guys from back home.

He picked up his pen.

Dear Don Francisco,

He didn't have a lot to report. He'd only been here a week. But he owed the don a letter.

Johann Wilhelm Dilich, who is in charge of Frankfurt's fortifications, knows a lot more about city defenses than I do, or probably ever will.

I expect you already know that way back before Grantville arrived, the father of the guy who's the landgrave of Hesse now put Dilich's father in jail. And, I sort of think from what I've been picking up, it was for unfair reasons. As soon as the father got out in 1623, he went to work for the elector of Saxony. That's John George. He's still working there, and he's famous.

I guess that worked out fine in the world we came from, because Frankfurt and Hesse and Saxony were all on the side of Gustavus Adolphus.

Well, sort of, at least. Seems like John George was always a bit iffy, to put the best face possible on it.

What with the war coming up next spring, though, I thought I'd at least better remind you that the guy in charge of the fortifications at Frankfurt, which is a really important city (province, I guess, since the Congress of Copenhagen) for the USE and smack on the Main River, is the son of the guy who's in charge of the fortifications for John George.

Just in case.

The militia captain told me all this. He's an old friend of a gunsmith named Heinrich Dilles. He-Dilles, that is-has been dead for almost ten years, but Blumroder used to know him pretty well and said that the captain could tell me a lot. Blumroder gave me a few other names of men to look up beyond the ones I've already talked to on my sales trips over here. Kolb and Mohr. Hung and Rephun. And Schmidt. I don't exactly have high hopes of finding the right person named Schmidt. It's a good-sized town and they don't have street numbers.

Otherwise, Simon Jones, the minister of my church back home, came through town, with that hippie Tom Stone's two younger boys and an Italian woman painter, on his way back to Grantville. Funny company for him to be keeping. But I expect you've already heard that.

Best wishes,

Nathan Prickett

"I'm not here to tell you how to put your men through drill," Nathan said firmly. The Frankfurt militia officers were a touchy bunch, a lot of them. Not the captain, who was the head guy, but several of the lieutenants.

"I'm a veteran, yeah. One three-year enlistment from 1986 through 1989. Not an officer. I went in right out of high school, because I couldn't afford to start college right away. We were in the middle of an economic bust in Grantville, the year I graduated."

Someone asked a question.

"College? I guess you'd call it your 'arts faculty' at a university like Jena. Or a 'philosophy faculty.' But I'd planned to major in engineering, or something technical."

The man nodded. "Leiden," he said.

Nathan didn't catch the reference, so he kept going. "Never did get to college. By the time I got out of the army, I'd decided to start my own business, so I took a job to start saving money." He looked around the room. "Any questions? Is that clear?"

No more questions.

"Okay, one three-year enlistment. 'That's all, folks,' just like the cartoons say. I've been in the National Guard ever since, but that's weekend warrior stuff."

More technical terms to explain.

"Look, the main point is. You keep on teaching your troops to fight. I teach them how to take care of the new guns the city council has paid out their good tax money to buy." He looked around the room again. "Any questions? Is that clear?"

He'd learned the hard way, his first few trips over to Frankfurt for Ruben Blumroder, that "Any questions?" and "Is that clear?" were his best friends.

He hadn't expected Jason Waters to come tracking him down at the tavern where he ate dinner, but here he came. So he nodded. The two of them consumed stew and bread in silence for a while. Waters broke it.

"Ever run across a guy named Wackernagel?"

"The courier?"

"Um-hmmn. Guess you have, if you know his name."

"Read it in the paper. He's being the friendly local guide for Henry Dreeson's trip this fall."

"Yeah, that one."

"Never actually met him. Haven't gotten back to Grantville much these last couple of years."

"He works out of Frankfurt."

They both went back to dipping rye bread in the stew juice. That was about the only way to make it chewable, once it got stale.

Waters broke the silence again. "He's got a brother-in-law who runs a print shop here. Name's Neumann."

"Haven't met him." Nathan figured that he had the home court advantage and wasn't about to give it up. If Waters wanted something, he'd have to come right out and ask for it.

"Higgenbottom's run into him several times."

"Haven't seen much of Wayne since I got here."

"You run across some pretty odd people in Frankfurt. It's big enough that they can sort of keep themselves under the radar, if they're careful. Not like a village, where you've only got a couple hundred people and they all know each other."

"Odd, as in peculiar? Or odd, as in this could get to be a problem?"

"Plenty of the first around. Harmless religious nuts of various persuasions. Wayne's thinking that there's some of the second kind. Religious nuts of the ayatollah persuasion."

Nathan nodded.

"Jessica-sister of Bill Porter over at the power plant-divorced Wayne last year. He worked in Morgantown all his life. Managed the campus mail system for WVU. Doesn't belong to a church in Grantville. Wasn't born there. Didn't go to school there."

"So?" Nathan hated having to put that question mark at the end of his words. It amounted to giving up points. But Waters was a reporter. A word professional, so to speak. He'd probably had whole classes in turning conversations around on the people he talked to.

"There's at least one of the ayatollah bunches that's gotten hold of their own duplicating machine, Neumann says. One of the Vignelli machines. Got it used from Freytag when he bought a new model. They've been on the market for more than a year now-the machines, I mean. A trickle at first. Now it's a pretty wide stream. They're coming out of Tyrol, mostly, but there are already some knock-offs on the market."

Nathan gave up and asked a straight question. "What does that mean?"

"It means they're funded. The group of would-be ayatollahs, I mean. And well-funded. Even second-hand, a Vignelli will set you back a couple thousand dollars. The price will be coming down, of course, but for now, it's almost entirely print shops that are buying them. For small runs, they're cheaper than setting type."

"And?"

"Higgenbottom thinks somebody ought to know. And since you're Wes Jenkins' son-in-law and he's still the grand pooh-bah over in Fulda and since they had a problem with those pamphlets a while back…"

"You're nominating me for the fall guy."

"That's pretty much it."

At least they'd picked on him because of Wes and didn't know anything about his relationship to Francisco Nasi. Nathan picked up his pen.

Dear Don Francisco.

He'd better write to Wes, too. Just in case Waters or Higgenbottom asked about it, some day. CYA. Always.

Grantville

Jacques-Pierre Dumais decided that he would talk to Velma Hardesty at the 250 Club, sitting at a table right out in the open. Why not? Veda Mae Haggerty had introduced them to one another in public. Madame Hardesty was upon occasion a waitress there. Duck and Big Dog drank there; he worked for them. It was natural enough for him to come in with them, at first, and then to come back. The regulars didn't object, because the Garbage Guys had all vouched for him.

If you went slinking around, someone was eventually bound to notice that you were slinking.

As far as Jacques-Pierre was concerned, Grantville's greatest contribution to the education of seventeenth century spies was that delightful couple, Boris Badenoff and Natasha. He had transcribed every episode of the tapes featuring the Russian pair, the squirrel, and the moose, listening to them over and over. With sketches of the best scenes, after he had learned to use the "pause" button. He sent them back to Henri de Rohan for use in training. A splendid object lesson in how not to gather intelligence. Himself, he preferred to go places where he had some reason to be and speak openly with people who also had some logical reason to be there.

He stopped to examine the place carefully on his way in. The 250 Club had missed out on most of Grantville's ongoing redevelopment. The building itself backed up to a rise. Above it, the hill rose fairly high. There wasn't really anything behind the building except a narrow walkway, because it was too close to the slope. That cut had been made, Duck had told him, nearly a half-century before the Ring of Fire.

The front of the building was a dull red. The back was painted in a faded dark green, a kind of paint that weathered, but did not peel. Part of the walkway had always been kept open to allow the beer delivery man to run his hand truck to the back door. It was hard to tell the color in places. Before the Ring of Fire, everywhere there wasn't junk, generations of beer deliverymen and meter readers had rubbed against the paint and sworn over damaging their clothes. The rest of the walkway used to be blocked by a pile of old refrigerators, broken bar furniture, and other miscellaneous junk that eventually merged into the former scrapyard if a person went that far. The junk was gone now. The Garbage Guys had paid Ken Beasley enough to make it worth his while to let them have it. The color of the paint was a little brighter where the junk had protected it.

Redevelopment had hit the area around it. Dumais had seen historical photographs at the museum. Before the Ring of Fire, facing the 250 Club from the road, on the right, there had been a small scrapyard with a few dead cars-not really a wrecking yard, just random accumulation-with a fence made of wired-up pieces of sheet-iron roofing. The Garbage Guys had bought up everything there, also, the owner being too cheap to donate it to recycling. Now there were new buildings and new businesses. On the left, the road curved away from you, and the parking still went around to that side of the building, not that anyone needed a parking lot any more. The next thing in that direction was-once upon a time-a failed gas station, with a rusty brown 1971 Mercury with a torn vinyl top and the right-front wheel missing parked under the portico. The car was long gone for parts. A down-time blacksmith had bought the building and stripped it. Now it was a butcher shop.

After a full evening of Madame Hardesty's conversation, Jacques-Pierre was tempted to give up the trade of espionage for good. He was suffering from la migraine. Getting any sound information out of the woman would be hopeless. She was utterly indifferent to anything that did not affect her directly.

She was stupid. She was spiteful. She was frivolous. She believed in astrology and who knew what other superstitions. She spouted platitudes that she found in her horoscope.

She was also a first cousin of the prime minister of the United States of Europe. True, Mike Stearns avoided claiming the relationship as much as possible-and had, by all accounts, long before he became the prime minister. A prime minister and a waitress in a tavern? Cousins? It would not be possible in a well-ordered world. But Stearns was an upstart and he did acknowledge the relationship in a minimal sort of way. At least, the woman had been invited to his wedding. Jacques-Pierre had confirmed that.

So.

If he could put ideas into that hennaed head? Ideas that she could drop into her normal conversation? It wouldn't work in a larger community, but there were really so few of the up-timers. A comment here. An innuendo there. A veiled criticism here. A barbed jab there. Each of them the kind of thing that people who knew the woman might expect her to say, but with the added little fillip that well, she was , after all, Mike Stearns' first cousin. Even if it was on the Lawler side of the family and they weren't that close.

Jacques-Pierre set out to flatter Madame Hardesty while, at the same time, seeding her mind with comments that would cultivate enough mild dissatisfaction in Grantville about the USE's policy in regard to Louis XIII and Richelieu to persuade Mauger that it was worthwhile to keep employing him. But not so much dissatisfaction as to cause really major problems, since that was not what Henri de Rohan wanted, not at all.

He must encourage her to undertake a self-improvement project. How? What would she understand? Ah, yes-the practice of transcendental meditation. Reduced to words she might at least pretend to understand.

The woman was not only lazy but also not known to be interested in public affairs. So he would be careful. Of the subjects that he gave her, "new insights" she should share with others to impress them, only about one in three, maybe fewer, would have any possible political implications. Most of the positive ones would involve the need for up-timers to harbor warm, fuzzy thoughts about French Huguenots and the Calvinist exiles from the Spanish Netherlands. The negative ones would target Gustavus Adolphus' treaty proposals. The remainder would be platitudes such as A Discontented Heart Breeds a Discontented Life . He could easily plagiarize most of them from Seneca, which the Grantvillers would soon realize, if they read Seneca.

But they didn't. So.

Chapter 12

Grantville

"Hey, Veda Mae. Can I share your table?"

She looked up. The dining room at the Willard Hotel was crowded for lunch and it was Bryant Holloway. She had known him all his life and he was her cousin somehow through the Cunninghams, so she couldn't very well say no. Therefore, she cleared her purse off the other side where it had been staking her claim and said, "Sure. Haven't seen you for a while."

"I've been in Magdeburg since the middle of last winter. I'm just back for a month or so now for a fire prevention training conference."

"What's Magdeburg like?"

"Start with this. The Fire Marshall of our wonderful United States of Europe is that prick from Baltimore, Archie Stannard. One of the Masaniellos' relatives who got caught in the Ring of Fire because of Vince and Carla's fortieth anniversary party over at Pray Your Rosary Catholic Church, or whatever they're calling it these days."

"What's wrong with him?"

"From the minute the Grantville fire department chief Steve Matheny picked him up as assistant chief, Stannard's been trying to make us more 'professional.' Sometimes I thought that if I heard the word 'professional' one more time, I would gag. Steve kept us right up to the mark on equipment and training, but he didn't preach about it. Stannard does. I guess I could have lived with that, though. Since the Ring of Fire, we'd all been on call 24/7 and that wears you out, so I sort of put it down to stress. But then in the fall of '32, Stearns made this agreement with What's His Name, the captain general you know, and Stannard started on this kick of expanding modern fire prevention into the rest of the New United States. It's one thing to work your ass off for Grantville. It's something else when they expect you to do it for a bunch of foreigners."

Sensing a kindred spirit, Veda Mae actually smiled. "You didn't have anyone in Magdeburg back then, did you?"

"No. But they sent me over to Rudolstadt, right off the bat, as soon as Steve insisted that he needed me to go full-time rather than volunteer. Which I agreed to do, even though, with overtime, I was sure making more at Ollie's than the government pays us. The count over there speaks some English, at least, even though he sounds like one of those Shakespeare plays that Lisa Dailey tried to make us read in high school."

"Shakespeare's not so bad. We even read some of his stuff back in my day, and he sounded a lot like the King James Version. Which the Reverends Jones never should have gotten rid of and put in one of these so-called modern translations of the Bible." Veda Mae veered off on a tangent, pursuing one of her favorite grievances. By the time she ran down, Bryant had finished half of his lunch.

"Anyway, you asked what Magdeburg is like. We're trying to prevent all of the wonderful Emperor Gustavus Adolphus' Kraut allies from turning themselves into krispy kritters, which, if you ask me, most of them deserve. They're the ones who messed up and caused the disaster at Underwood's coal gas company. And now Quentin's dead himself, poor guy. None of the Krauts up at Wietze went running to help him, as far as I've ever heard.

"I'm not even at the Navy Yard, which might make some sense. I drew Station Number One. With Bibi Blackwood, of all people, as Captain and Officer in Charge. I never did hold with women 'firefighters' and I still don't. They even had to change the word from 'firemen.' "

"I never heard anyone complain that Bibi couldn't handle it. She's a big woman."

Bryant couldn't argue with that. Bibi was a big woman, all right. He nodded, then said, "At least her boys are grown and Sara stayed back here in Grantville with Dean and his new wife, so she's not distracted by having to find child care and schools. I'll give her that much."

"Kraut woman."

"Bibi?"

"Dean's new wife. Would you believe that her name is Krapp?"

Bryant laughed so loud that people stared at them.

"The whole town is going to pot," Veda Mae said. "You can't believe how many decent Americans are marrying these Kraut whores. There must be a half dozen or so who are actually taking classes at that Kraut church out on what used to be Route 250 on the way to Rudolstadt so they can marry them in Kraut ceremonies. And it won't be any too soon for Ryan Baker and his girlfriend if you know what I mean, believe me. Little slut. She works in Cora Ennis' kitchen at the cafe."

"I can see that it's getting to be a problem. Hell, Veda Mae. Have you heard what Lenore's dad did?"

"Wes? Not a word. Not since he and the other people we sent over to Fulda were kidnapped by a bunch of ungrateful Krauts. That was in the paper a while back. I don't have time to read the papers much, though."

"Well, the rest of our people over there got them back, including Wes. Anyway, he celebrated his delivery from the dungeon, or wherever he was, by marrying a Kraut woman himself. Sister of that Dietrich Bachmeier from Badenburg who's a sort of cousin of the guy who's Birdie Newhouse's partner these days. That farmer up at Sundremda. Same last name."

"At his age, he should have known better. Wes, I mean. Stearns and Piazza must be nuts to have appointed someone as chief civilian administrator in one of our Kraut territories who would behave like that. He ought to have kept his distance, so they would respect him. What did they call it after World War II? 'Nonfraternization policy.' That's it. Not that it worked the way it should have. Arnold Bellamy's own mother was one of those Kraut war brides. He's not from here, of course; he was from someplace in New Jersey when Natalie Fritz married him. So he's half-Kraut himself. And Curtis Maggard's mother, too. The woman's as crazy as a coot. Well, of course, Stearns… Becky's a Kraut, no matter what people say. Sometimes it seems to me that half of this town is going native. Thank god he's no relative of mine. Neither one of them is, Stearns nor Jenkins.

"Nor, thank heavens, the daughter of that idiot Pat Murphy. Did you hear that she's back in town again, with that Kraut named Junker she works with? Junk's a good name for him. Back from whatever it was she's been doing down in Franconia. Probably up to no good. She's working for Carol Unruh at the Department of Economic Resources, did you know. With that name, Carol's likely a Kraut herself. I know her husband is, that Koch. She met him in Germany, up-time, for all he tells people that he was actually born in Greece."

It got to be sort of a habit for Bryant. He certainly didn't want to eat lunch with all of the people who had come for the training conference. He was bad enough having to spend the rest of the day with them, listening to mostly German, even if it was peppered full of English words about firefighting equipment, without trying to talk it when he was trying to relax a bit.

And Veda Mae had lunch at the Willard every day.

"As I said, the first time that they sent me out of town, it was over to Rudolstadt. Fall of 1632, that was. I ran into Lenore again, there. She was taking some kind of class at the chancery. I knew perfectly well that her family was a little bit out of my league, but she was the only American girl in town, so we started to see one another. What with one thing and another, I proposed. Not right away, but pretty near to it. What do they call it?"

Veda Mae thought a minute. "Propinquity."

"Yeah, that's it."

"I saw a program about it on TV once, before we got ourselves stuck here. Oprah or somebody. You were right about 'out of your league,' though, if I do say so myself. That's why I stuck my oar in when Laurie wanted to go to nursing school. And I was right, wasn't I? Just her wanting to go and get herself above Gary led to a divorce."

"And Lenore accepted. I didn't pretend to myself that I was her 'Mr. Right.' Lenore was getting close to thirty and, God knows, she's no beauty. String bean with a horse face just about sums it up. How she can be so hellishly sexy is beyond me. I was her 'Mr. Good Enough.' Maybe even her 'Mr. The Best I Can Do.' Hell, maybe I was even 'Mr. It Looks Like He's All I'm Going To Get So If I Ever Want Children I Had Better Take Him.'

"So we got married in January 1633. She wanted to go to premarital counseling at First Methodist, but I told her I didn't want to. Certainly not sit through a bunch of "holier than thou" from Mary Ellen Jones, calling herself a minister when the Bible forbids it. So we went to Brother Green, at his home. With 'obey' in the ceremony, like it should be. At least they had sent her prissy stick of a father off to Fulda by then, so he wasn't around to interfere."

Bryant looked down. "Maybe I should have broken it off right after I proposed. Do you know what she said? 'I hope you don't expect to be deflowering a virgin on your wedding night. No history of social diseases. Just for informational purposes.' Then she wouldn't explain any more than that when I asked her to. All she would say was that according to Dear Abby, that was plenty and I could take it or leave it.

"I should have realized then that she was a bitch, before it was too late. I should have left it. If a woman's been somewhere else before she marries, who's to say she won't go there again afterwards?

"Anyhow, we moved back to Grantville a couple of months later, after I finished up in Rudolstadt. Then we had the kid. And Lenore invented a stupid name, so she could call a girl after her father. I'd said that I didn't care what name she chose if it was a girl. Hell, I was so tired all the time right then that I didn't even want to think about baby names. But I'd been expecting her to pick something normal. Jessica, maybe. Or Caitlin. Or after one of our mothers. Something like that."

"I don't think I've ever heard of any other little girl named Weshelle," Veda Mae said. "But at least it isn't a Kraut name. Some of the men around here are letting their Kraut wives give Kraut names to babies that are half-American."

"I'd hated it in Rudolstadt, being off in a foreign town. Not very far, but too far to go back and forth every day. Then for the two months after the kid was born, she squalled her lungs out day and night, whenever I was trying to get some sleep between calls, so coming back to Grantville was actually worse in some ways. Given the way that kid yelled, I wouldn't actually have minded being sent to Magdeburg all that much, even if I do have to deal with another batch of foreigners all the time, if it hadn't been for having Stannard as my boss."

Veda Mae thought for a minute. "Weshelle should be beyond that crying stage now. She's almost a year old."

"Yeah. Instead, she's starting to walk and gets into everything if Lenore doesn't keep her penned up. Smears food all over her face and into her hair. And all over me, if I let her get near. A whole handful of mashed squash on my good blue shirt."

Veda Mae nodded solemnly. "Sometimes kids that age can get to be a real pain. Now take Alden Junior's kid, my great-grandson, he's just a couple of months older and the way Alden Junior's wife Kim lets him get away with things…"

Bryant rearranged the silverware on his plate, pushing the last of the food to the side. "Roasted turnips are not the same as baked potatoes, no matter what the menu here claims. Sometimes I wish that I could get drunk."

"Well, don't. I'm proud of you for sticking to the Baptist teetotalling line. I do myself, for the Methodists. Even though they're getting slack, these days."

"Damn kid. Here, I've been gone for nine months and it's pretty clear that Lenore didn't miss me much. Stays in the nursery until Weshelle is sound asleep. Jumps up out of bed in the middle of the night and goes to sleep on the cot in the nursery if she hears the least little bit of fussing."

"You're right about that. It's nothing but spoiling. If the child goes to the bad, it will be Lenore's fault. Just like Alden Junior's wife Kim. I could tell you…" Veda Mae stopped, annoyed, because Bryant was interrupting her again.

"She probably said 'yes' because she was far too proper to have a baby in anything but marriage. If not too proper to have sex outside it beforehand. Boy, but that grated on me. I'd been around a bit, myself, had a few girlfriends, but it's different for a man."

"Ummn." Veda Mae frowned. "I've sort of always thought that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander."

Bryant ignored her. "And after we got married, I thought, she would obey me, at least. We left that in the ceremony. I thought that after she agreed to be married by Brother Green, she'd change over to Baptist, but she won't. Just because, she says, I hardly ever go myself, so why should she change?"

"Well," Veda Mae said, "I'm Methodist myself, so I don't think that you should really complain about that. After all, Methodist is really the right church. The others just sort of try. And it's teetotal too, like the Baptists, or it should be. Though I have my doubts about the Reverends Jones. Maybe you could change."

Bryant glared at her.

"Get that expression off your face, Bryant Holloway," Veda Mae said. "I'm your cousin and old enough to be your grandmother, so I can say what I please. Especially when it's the truth. There's no reason for her to change churches."

"Plus, now she wants to go back to work. She has more education than I do and wants to show it off, I suppose."

"Maybe that's why she doesn't want to sleep with you," Veda Mae suggested. "Having another baby would interfere. But I already told you what I think of women who have more schooling than their husbands. I know what it leads to. I went through it myself."

"So I'm stuck, I guess. She'll never do anything to give me a reason to divorce her, now that we're married. Well, probably not. She acts as prim and prissy as old Wes Jenkins himself, but… You know. She wouldn't ever have been to my taste, up-time. I would never even have asked her out. The only reason I did was that she was the only American woman that I could date in Rudolstadt that fall."

Veda Mae nodded. "There's this guy here in Grantville," she said. "He's a foreigner, but not a Kraut. He's working for Gary. His name is Jacques-Pierre Dumais, and he's pretty nice. A good listener, as Oprah would have said. Maybe it would help if you could talk some of these things out with him."

She felt pretty pleased with herself, for a change. Jacques-Pierre was always so grateful for introductions. He was anxious to get to know more Americans, he said, to improve himself and get to understand how they did things. That was a really proper attitude for an immigrant to take.

Humble.

PART THREE

October 1634

Innumerable force of spirits armed

Chapter 13

Fulda

"There's not a place to stay anywhere in Fulda." Simon Jones' voice was very glum. "One of those 'no room at the inn' situations. We should have thought ahead. It's been in all the papers, after all. Henry Dreeson's little motorcade arrived early this afternoon. All the bright lights and would-be bright lights of Buchenland County have crammed themselves into town."

"Aw, shit." Okay, that might not be elegant. But it was exactly how Ron Stone felt. They'd been riding up and down hills all day. "I'm pooped. What next? Any place to camp?"

"There's not any place to hang by your fingernails, the way it looks. We'd better plan on going to the next village and hope someone has a spot. I sort of feel like we should try to say hello to Henry, but I don't think we could get anywhere near him."

"That probably means that his tour is a big success. I hope it is. You can say hello to him when he gets back to Grantville. To Ronnie and him both. Has anybody heard anything about the abbot yet?"

"Not a clue. Not one single everlovin' clue."

"Oh, well. Too bad we don't have an ATV. We'd be getting home a lot sooner than we will riding these poor beaten-down rental horses."

Gerry Stone just kept plodding along, not paying any real attention to the conversation. Artemisia Gentileschi and her daughter followed him, their heads drooping.

Suddenly, Ron pulled on the reins. His horse stopped, so everyone behind him stopped, too. They didn't have much choice. "Just a minute."

The Reverend Jones frowned slightly. He knew what happened when that gleam appeared in Ron's eye. It wasn't a new phenomenon. When Ron was in the lower grades, Jones had heard all about it from his brother David, who was principal of the elementary school. When Ron was in middle school… When Ron was in high school… And then, these last months in Venice and Rome, he'd seen the results for himself. He opened his mouth. "Whatever you're thinking…"

"We're not going on past Fulda, hoping to find an inn with space somewhere further along. It's already late and we're worn out, all of us. By the time we get around the city, the places on the other side will already be full with people coming from the other direction who know there won't be places to stay in Fulda itself and pulled over early. Everybody turn around. We'll backtrack a little."

"We've already checked with every inn along here," Simon protested.

"Yeah. That's right. Follow me."

"Barracktown?" Simon Jones exclaimed.

"It's obvious, when you think about it. All those orange uniforms out guarding VIPs means a whole batch of empty bunks in the barracks."

"We can't."

"Sure we can. You're a preacher from Grantville." He pointed his thumb. "She's a famous artist from Italy." He grinned. "The obligation of hospitality. Down-timers take it seriously. Just let me nose around and find someone I knew before we left for Venice last winter. Leave it to 'Stone the Golden-Tongued' or whatever some poet in a heroic epic might call me. If I didn't learn anything else from Sandrart-actually, to be honest, I learned quite a bit from him-he really improved my schmooze quotient."

"Hell, if that doesn't look like an Old West general store! What's it doing in Barracktown? Hold up, everyone." Ron dismounted with something of a groan and tossed his reins to Gerry. He was back ten minutes later with a young down-time woman following him. With something of a flourish, he bowed to Jones. "We're in luck. It's the sutler's cabin. The new guy remodeled. Everybody left in Barracktown seems to be shopping. Reverend Jones, may I have the privilege of presenting to you Antonia Kruger. She's married to Sergeant Johnny Furbee, who goes to your church in Grantville."

Antonia produced something that might have been a curtsey, if curtseys only involved a two-inch bob rather than a sweeping bend of the knees, and averred that she was honored by the privilege. She also took Signora Gentileschi and Signorina Constantia off to her own cabin, after having hauled a couple of half-grown boys out of the store, one to take the horses to the stables and the other to take the men to the barracks.

"Told you," Ron said, as they tucked into ham sandwiches. "Piece of cake."

Gerry looked at him. "It's rye bread."

"Whatever."

Buchenland

"Y'know," Mark Early remarked. "If Freiherr von Schlitz wasn't in jail again for plotting against the government of the SoTF, he'd hate this. Absolutely hate it."

Orville Beattie grinned. "Yup. Henry's holding up real well. Rip-roarin' job of stumping. God, what a stroke of luck that we managed to get Constantin Ableidinger to come at the same time. The newspapers are eating it up. 'Handing on the torch'-ain't that how the Magdeburg paper put it? I've got to say that Jason Waters in Frankfurt has been earning his keep, too." He looked at the back of the wagon bed that Henry was standing on. "What do they call it-what the Kastenmayer boy is doing?

"Simultaneous translation."

"I thought that was sign language."

"They do it from one language to another, too. Gets the words out in the second language while the audience can still hang onto the tone of voice that the speaker was using when he said them in the first language."

"Then when Henry gets tired, Ableidinger booms at them for a while."

"We ought to get some great publicity when Henry goes down to Frankfurt to meet Ronnie."

"If we don't, Wes wasted a lot of money on flyers. Wackernagel wangled the printing contract for his brother-in-law. Jason Waters promised to get it into the Frankfurt papers. We'll send a messenger down when the motorcade reaches Gelnhausen. We're pacing ourselves. Mainz is going to radio through when Ronnie gets onto the Main barge there, so we can stage an impressive reunion."

"Like, 'Dr. Livingstone, I presume'?"

"Sort of. But I don't think there were any reporters at that one."

"At least one's bound to have been there. It wouldn't be so famous if someone hadn't covered it."

Wes Jenkins took his glasses off and put them safely on the nightstand. On your face or in the case, he recited under his breath. The optometrist had taught him that when he was six years old. Jim McNally would be proud of him for remembering it, he expected, but it was really sheer self-interest. He could get new frames down-time, if he had to. There were people in Grantville right now, jewelers' journeymen, mainly, studying how to make hinges, so people didn't have to wear those things that were expected to stick on the bridge of your nose by themselves, whatever they were called. But they wouldn't be lightweight titanium.

He picked up the conversation again. "I'm worried about them both, Lenore and Chandra. Bryant Holloway was never the man I'd have picked for Lenore at all, not that I had anything to say about it at the time. And Nathan's been so… standoffish, lately. Like for the past year, at least, from what I can pick up from her letters. They're both out of town all the time. It's hard on a young woman to have to bring up her children alone, to be mother and father both."

"You can't live their lives for them. Especially not at ten o'clock in the evening when you are in Fulda and they are in Grantville." Clara slipped under the comforter. "Think about the good things. How well your idea for the speaking tour is working out."

"I didn't really expect people to be quite so impressed with Henry. After all, he's just a small town mayor. Not some dramatic or charismatic political figure."

She curled up and tucked her head under his chin. "That's why he impresses them."

"You've lost me."

"The people who come to hear him are village and small town mayors and councilmen too, mostly. And their wives. Or ordinary people who aren't even on the councils. Almost all of them. It's important that he isn't some remarkable and alien hero. What you would call a superman. He's average size. Short and a little scrawny, for an up-timer, but average size for the seventeenth century. He isn't as young as he used to be. He walks with a cane. He faces a lot of the same problems that they do, such as tight budgets and people who constantly complain to the point that there's no pleasing them. He doesn't pretend that he has all the answers. He just says that he does his best and keeps on trying."

Wes snuggled her in a little closer and kissed the top of her ear.

"No, don't distract me. I'm not done yet."

"Finish up, then."

"For people like these, Mike Stearns or Hans Richter may be an inspiration, yes. Constantin Ableidinger is an inspiration, too. But Mr. Dreeson is a comfort. They know, most of them, in their own hearts, that they will never be heroes. He shows them that they don't have to be, to be good citizens. To be a valuable part of the USE that we're trying to build."

"I hear you."

"He doesn't glorify what he has done in Grantville. He doesn't say anything about being part of a great miracle. He just talks about local government-says that he was mayor before the Ring of Fire and he's kept on being mayor. Doing the same job to the best of his ability. Nothing fancy. Nothing new and special. The same man, doing the same job. That is what he shows them."

"Sometimes, maybe, that's all a man can do."

Chapter 14

Scotland

The news of an official peace treaty between Gustavus Adolphus and the king in the Netherlands had not improved Antoine Delerue's mood. The arrangements between the Swede and Denmark the previous summer had been bad enough, but this was appalling.

The simultaneous arrival of two letters from Guillaume Locquifier had ruined the day altogether. Their arrival was simultaneous because the first one had been delayed in transit, waiting in a bin in the office of that fool Mauger in Haarlem until he had a wine shipment ready to go out to Glasgow.

"Locquifier is an idiot. Can't he make up his own mind about anything?"

Michel Ducos shook his head. "I did, very specifically, instruct him not to take any action without my consent."

Delerue frowned. The problem here was that Michel's personality was so forceful and intimidating that people tended to overdo his instructions. But it was an old problem, and not one for which he'd ever found a good solution. Michel was simply too valuable to the cause for Delerue to be willing to risk a sharp clash with him.

He looked around the room. Andre Tourneau was arguing with Levasseur and the other two Lyonnais silk weavers. Mademann, the Alsatian, was, as usual, off by himself.

"The time is not yet ripe for us to act," Ducos said firmly. "And in Frankfurt, of all ridiculous places. What kind of symbolism would Frankfurt bring to our great undertaking?"

Delerue decided he was probably right. The situation in France still needed to mature. Gaston needed to consolidate his base of support. Although Delerue wasn't sure how much success the king's brother would have, given the naturalization of that very capable Italian Mazarini. The one who, after the debacle in Rome, had moved to France and was now throwing his diplomatic talents behind Richelieu. And his talents were not inconsiderable.

Delerue picked up what he had been saying earlier. "The proposed treaty terms…"

Tourneau, who had once been a steward for the de Beauharnais family, broke off from his argument with Levasseur and waved a hand. "Are very unsatisfactory! Why hasn't Henri de Rohan at least issued a public condemnation of any idea that France might accept them?"

Delerue shook his head. "As for Rohan, pah! He is a weakling and Richelieu's lackey. I have written a new pamphlet explaining it all. I will be sending the manuscript to Mauger by the next packet so he can arrange to have it printed."

Abraham Levasseur focused his eyes on Tourneau. "There is no possible treaty between the Swede and France that we could describe as satisfactory. Not so much because the Swede is the Great Satan-that is what the devots, Pere Joseph's Catholic fanatics in France, are calling him. So we must not. But-"

Delerue intervened again. "But because peace in France, any peace on any terms, means that Richelieu will get a second chance to entrench his rule. Even if Stearns prevails on Gustav Adolf to offer France more lenient terms, we will be opposed."

"What we need," Ducos announced a few hours later, "is a coordinated operation. Europe-wide. One that will backlash on Richelieu, since everyone will blame him for it."

"That's going to take money."

"In that matter, at least, Guillaume has shown himself to be effective. Our treasury is refilling rapidly."

"Other than persuading wealthy men to contribute, by whatever means, what can he do though? In Frankfurt, that is?"

"I will tell him what to do."

Enough time had passed since Ducos first read Locquifier's letters that he had managed to interpret them to his own satisfaction. "Guillaume has demonstrated his unswerving loyalty by adhering faithfully to the orders I gave him before we left. He should be rewarded for this, not condemned. I shall appoint him as my coordinator for all actions within the United States of Europe."

"Guillaume?" Tourneau emitted a disbelieving hiss, half under his breath.

Ducos heard it. "Unquestioning obedience, especially when it goes contrary to a man's own instincts, is a rare quality. It should be rewarded."

Tourneau glanced at Delerue, but saw that Antoine was not inclined to dispute the point with Michel.

So, he nodded. What else could he do?

"Antoine."

"Yes, Michel?"

"You must write to Guillaume. You must explain to him that while his decision concerning the Dreeson woman and the Stone boys was correct, we must conduct another assassination. Several assassinations, probably."

Delerue scratched notes on the back of Locquifier's second letter.

Ducos kept talking. "But they must be major actions, of true political significance, designed in such a way that Richelieu will be blamed for them. Assassinations that will destroy any prospect for peace. A wave of assassinations, flooding across the map of Europe. No. Wait. Stop. Scratch that out. One massive assassination.

"Assure him that he and the other men in Frankfurt will play a major role in regard to the portion of our great plan that will unfold in the United States of Europe. They will have the honor of planning and carrying out the deaths of Michael Stearns and Rebecca Abrabanel."

He paused a moment. "And of Gustavus Adolphus and Princess Kristina." He paused again. "And of Wilhelm Wettin. All on the same day, for maximum effect. In Magdeburg, the so-called 'imperial capital.' In front of one of the spectacular, if as yet unfinished, new buildings. There is no reason for us to carry out picayune little actions against people who are, in the great picture, insignificant. As for the Stones… Yes, in Rome, they did us a great disservice. But their time will come. After we have achieved our greater goals."

Tourneau cleared his throat. "That's very… ambitious, Michel."

Fortunately, Ducos interpreted the comment as a compliment. And, unfortunately, Antoine was still not inclined to dispute the matter. Not for the first time in the history of their organization, Michel Ducos' force of personality would drive a decision that was perhaps not wise on its own merits.

Delerue sent his letter containing Ducos' instructions out on the next packet boat to the Netherlands. It would take some time, even with the most favorable weather. To Laurent Mauger in Haarlem, then to Isaac de Ron at the inn Zum Weissen Schwan the next time Mauger had cause to travel to Frankfurt, for they had given de Ron the strictest orders not to trust the postal system. De Ron would turn them over to Locquifier.

De Ron was a reliable man. Laurent Mauger was also reliable, he supposed. But, at the very least, not over-curious. That in itself was a virtue.

Haarlem, Netherlands

Laurent Mauger surveyed his warehouse with pride.

Excusable pride, he thought. He had built a business that supported his entire family. Supported it well. Not to mention, employed most of it.

His sons were learning the business. Barendt and Jan Willem, the only survivors of the nine children born to his late wife. Barendt was twenty-two already. Time flew. He'd need to start looking for a wife pretty soon. Jan Willem at eighteen could afford to wait a few more years before worrying about such weighty matters.

Neither was home. Barendt was observing wine-making in the Moselle Valley. Jan Willem had accompanied his cousin Pierre Guillaume de Grasse to Italy on a buying trip.

Which brought Laurent to those who had finished learning the business and now helped him run it. Pierre Guillaume was his chief buyer. He was the younger son of his widowed half-sister, Marie, who ran his household here in town. Her older son, Laurent, called Lolo by the family, was his chief accountant. Her daughters, both unmarried, lived at home.

A slight shadow passed over his face. The girls should be married by now, but their brothers were reluctant to let the dowry money bequeathed by Marie's late husband out of their own hands.

Then there were the sons of his deceased half-sister Louise. Jan Dircksen Pieterz was, unfortunately, as improvident as his late father had been. Mauger kept looking for some avenue by which Jan might display his talents. Thus far, none had appeared, and the boy was.. . um… thirty-six years old now, it must be. Still, he was family, so he must be fed-and luckily, he hadn't married. For the time being, he was in charge of arranging shipping contracts. Somebody else always double-checked the arrangements he made, of course. Usually his younger brother, who was cautious and careful, if not particularly resourceful.

They couldn't have dowered their sisters if they wanted to. Dirck had died bankrupt. So both Alida and Madeleine were, to put it plainly, upper servants. Ladies-in-waiting to the wives of wealthy merchants. Not chambermaids, but not far above that status, either. They fetched, carried, read out loud, made lace.

He had offered to dower them, but they were both too proud. Or ashamed that he had needed to make the offer. Alida had been in her teens when Dirck went bankrupt and killed himself. Madeleine was old enough to remember that time.

All six of those boys, his own sons and the sons of his half-sisters, had a remarkable sense of entitlement where the business was concerned. They thought of it as already theirs, although he was far from dead yet.

Nowhere close to dead. How surprised they would be if they knew that his sedate business trips also involved secret work for the Huguenot cause!

His greatest affection was reserved for his younger sister Aeltje. She wasn't here. Widowed like Marie, she had chosen not to depend on him when Louis died. Rather, she had remained in Leiden, where she had turned her large house into a residence for a dozen or so students. Both of her sons were attending the university. Mauger liked the boys, too. Jean-Louis was studying science and engineering. He said that the chemistry, at least, would be of use in the wine business if he some day joined the firm. The younger boy had started classes this semester. Aeltje was no longer young, but now she had the help of her daughter Marte, who had a quite respectable dowry.

With any luck, Marte would soon find a husband in the form of one of her brothers' friends. University towns were useful, that way. They provided a pool of promising young men, pre-selected for a certain minimum level of intelligence and ambition.

Aeltje was not stupid. That might be why she was his favorite sister.

Mauger spent three days reviewing the business developments that had occurred while he was gone. Then he couldn't put it off any longer. He would be made to regret it if he postponed it any farther.

It was time to face the villa.

He had bought the villa after Adriaantje had died. His late wife. A saint. Not in the idolatrous Catholic sense of the word, of course. Rather, a saint as in "a woman of noble character."

The "girls" had lived with them throughout their marriage. Not one of them had been willing to assume responsibility for the household after Adriaantje died. They said that, never having married, they had no experience in the matter.

So he had asked Marie. Who came and, a scant three months later, proclaimed: "Either they go or I go."

He needed Marie in his Haarlem townhouse. So he bought the villa. Hired a steward and a housekeeper. It was a truly lovely country home.

The door opened. They emerged like a flock of crows. His oldest half-sister, Catherine. She was seventy-two now. Followed by his three older sisters.

Not an Arminian among them. Surely that consistency of theological opinion in his family was something of which a man could be proud.

But he would prefer to be away on a business trip.

Grantville

"Perhaps he is interested in you." Veda Mae pursed her lips. "Personally, I mean."

Velma Hardesty shook her head. She might not be a brain, but one thing was always perfectly clear to her. "Look, Veda Mae. I can tell when a man's interested in me."

"You've certainly had enough chances to practice that skill."

"Thanks for the compliment. But, what I mean is-Jacques-Pierre isn't. Interested in me, I mean. Except for teaching me to Meditate. Which must have been Meant. By the Stars, you know. It's sort of too bad. He's in great condition."

Veda Mae cocked her head to the side. "Spending every day trotting alongside a wagon and heaving the contents of garbage cans into it will do that for the old biceps and triceps and abs, I suppose. Several of the orderlies at the assisted living center-why don't they tell the plain truth and call it an old folks home or a nursing home, the way people used to?-are in really good shape, too."

Velma raised her eyebrows. "Window shopping?"

"I'm a widow," Veda Mae said righteously. "It's perfectly proper, as long as all I do is look."

Chapter 15

Frankfurt am Main

" Solch eine Schlamperei! " Johann Wilhelm Dilich was screaming at the top of his lungs.

Nathan Prickett wasn't quite certain that there was one word that could translate all the nuances into English. It was carelessness combined with messiness combined with filthiness. Filthiness like dirt, not filthiness like porn. Maybe even a little recklessness, combined with quite a bit of fecklessness.

The militia captain was looking horrified.

The people who prepared bodies for burial had already come and gone.

The demo was supposed to have been a showpiece. Showing off all the nice new gun-shaped toys the militia had been practicing with.

It had been quite a bang. Amideutsch had coined a word. Boomenstoff. Stuff that went boom. Or bang. Or bam-bam-bam. Or blam. Most of the words that used to come with exclamation points after them in comic books.

They'd been storing a lot of Boomenstoff in the bunker.

That was a really big hole in the redoubt now.

The bright spot was that they were south of the river, in Sachsenhausen. At least it hadn't happened right downtown.

Who in hell had taken a candle down into the bunker where the guys were loading? They weren't even supposed to go down there wearing any iron, for fear of striking a spark. Dusty air was dangerous, even if the dust wasn't gunpowder. Once, once when he was a kid, he'd managed a pretty good boom just by throwing a canister of his mom's flour up into the air. Everybody knew about grain elevators. Well, the down-timers didn't have grain elevators.

But it was all spelled out in the manual. Line by line, word for word.

Fat lot of good that had done.

Seven men dead. For a couple of them, they wouldn't find enough to bury. That included the guy with the candle, whoever he'd been. They could probably identify him by a process of elimination. Figure out who everyone else was, alive and dead. He'd be the one they couldn't account for. Forty-three injured, including two officers from patrician families.

The muttering in taverns throughout Frankfurt had started the evening after the catastrophe at the Sachsenhausen redoubt.

There was always some level of resentment of the ghetto in the city, because of its size. Except for possibly Nurnburg, Frankfurt had the largest Jewish population of any city in the Germanies. The last time it really boiled over had been twenty years before, during the so-called Fettmilch revolt.

The Jews. It must have been the Jews.

It didn't make any sense. Nathan ran his hand through his hair. There had not been a single Jew involved.

They must have contaminated the powder.

How in hell could they have done that? It was kept in the magazine in Sachsenhausen.

They changed the instructions in the manual on how to handle it somehow. Left out a step. Or added one, maybe, so the next one didn't work right. Just enough that our sons and brothers would have to suffer.

The manual was perfectly good. What's more, the militia captain had promised to have all the men read it. That he would drill them in the procedures.

And he had kept his promise.

It had been plain, ordinary, contrary, human stupidity. Pilot error, as people said.

The up-timer. He is called Nathan. His name is Jewish.

Nathan had a suspicion that they wouldn't be a bit more pleased when they found out that he was Methodist. He picked up his pen.

Dear Don Francisco.

You wouldn't believe what is going on here. Or, maybe you would.

This was going to be a long letter.

On the Reichsstrasse between Fulda and Steinau

The two drivers and three mechanics were patching a tire on the rear ATV. Again. This time, it had taken a sharp rock.

About fifty or sixty men from the Fulda Barracks Regiment were watching with great interest. It was taking a while. The patch kit had been sitting on a shelf in someone's garage ever since inner tubes went out of style, up-time. The patches weren't for this kind of tire. The goop wasn't what it had once been.

Henry Dreeson was sitting on a different rock, waiting for them to finish. Margie and her husband had taken a trip to Europe once, back up-time. A package tour. Afterwards, the next time she came home to Grantville for a visit, she'd brought a video for her parents to watch. If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. That was the title, or something like it.

He was beginning to understand what his daughter's excursion must have been like.

"Where are we?" he asked Martin Wackernagel.

"About five miles northeast of Steinau an der Strasse. On the Reichsstrasse, that is. That's where we'll be spending the night.

"Wackernagel, I hate to tell you this, but if by the word Reichsstrasse you folks mean something like 'superhighway,' the follow-through on construction leaves something to be desired."

Cunz Kastenmayer, always the peacemaker, said, "You have to admit that it is much better than some of the rural roads we have traveled during the past two weeks in Buchenland county."

Dreeson nodded a little reluctantly. "Yep. Some of them were worse than anything I'd seen since about, oh, 1950 or 1960 in up-time West Virginia. Before the War on Poverty. Thank God for four wheel drive."

A couple of horses came in sight around the bend behind them. The riders stopped suddenly. They had planned to lag back far enough that the motorcade never spotted them.

Derek Utt was looking back. "Jeffie," he yelled. "Jeffie, what in hell?"

Jeffie Garand-Sergeant Garand now, Henry reminded himself-was moving up to face his commander.

"Ah. Um. Well, Gertrud and her stepmother wanted to come along to see the sights in Frankfurt, since the rest of us are going. I know you always say 'no camp followers,' but that's not exactly it. They're going to find a different inn to stay at, everywhere we stop, and they're paying their own way."

Utt looked around again. "Sergeant Hartke, did you know about this?"

Helmuth Hartke, father of Gertrud and husband of Dagmar, came forward. Dragging his feet a bit. "No, Sir." He cleared his throat. "I understand the problem, Sir. Dagmar really shouldn't be riding right now. In her condition."

Utt groaned and looked at Henry Dreeson.

He didn't have to ask. "Sure," Henry said. "We'll be glad to give her a place in the car. I'm sure Martin won't mind riding her horse the rest of the way into Frankfurt. He rides the Reichsstrasse all the time. It's his job."

Jeffie looked at Gertrud. Then at Wackernagel. He'd picked up a couple of rumors about the courier, when it came to girls. That's all they were, rumors, but…

Gertrud was his girl. He looked at Derek Utt.

"Maybe Gertrud oughta ride in the car with Dagmar? In case that she has, you know, female troubles, or something. Cunz can ride the other horse."

Derek sighed, waved one hand, and proclaimed, "So be it."

Frankfurt am Main

"Michel has gone mad," Mathurin Brillard said, almost snarling the words. "Stark, raving mad. Assassinate Stearns?"

Guillaume Locquifier glared at him. But not even Locquifier, with his near-adulation of Ducos, was prepared to argue the matter straight out. Instead, all he said was: "We will have to give Michel's orders some thought. Hard thought."

Those thoughts came to a consensus without much difficulty. It didn't take long, either. Two bottles of wine, at most.

Nobody said out loud that Michel Ducos really must have already heard about the group of Yeoman Warders whom the now-fabled Captain Lefferts had brought with him out of England-and who now served the USE's Prime Minister as a bodyguard. Or that, if not, he really should have. Ducos should have realized that Stearns would be almost impossible to assassinate, at least with the resources at their disposal.

True, the Pope's guards had been as ferocious-but there, they'd had the advantage of surprise. Nobody had really expected anyone to make a serious assassination attempt on the Pope. Whereas no one in Europe, down to village idiots, had any difficulty imagining the multitude of enemies who might wish to assassinate Michael Stearns.

No, it was simply out of the question to assassinate the USE's prime minister and his wife. Or his wife, for that matter. The protection of the Yeomen Warders extended to her also.

Robert Ouvrard shook his head. "Security is too tight around Gustavus Adolphus and Princess Kristina, too. The Swedes and Finns who guard them really mean business. If it comes to dying for them, those men will do so."

Locquifier chewed his upper lip. "Who does that leave, then? Wettin?"

Ouvrard shook his head. "Wettin doesn't have Yeoman Warders, but he does have bodyguards who take their jobs really seriously. Almost the only place we could reach him would be when he attends church. I am afraid that we all still have unfortunate memories of the last time Michel tried an assassination in a church."

"And what would be the point, even if we could kill him?" asked Brillard. "There is at least a logic to Michel's proposal to assassinate Wettin along with the USE's emperor and prime minister. But without them, simply killing Wettin will accomplish nothing. Let us not forget that the purpose of all this is to prevent the signing of a peace treaty-on any terms-between France and the USE. How does killing Wettin by himself advance that goal by so much as one step?"

Carefully, he did not refer openly to the significance of what was actually the single most important word in his statement. The term proposal, as applied to Ducos' instructions.

Not to his surprise, no one in the room chose to challenge the term. Not one of them, not even Locquifier, was as enthusiastic about martyrdom for the cause as Michel and Antoine were. Michel in practice; Antoine in theory.

"Do we inform Michel that we can't do it, then?" Ouvrard asked.

Locquifier shook his head. "Ah, no. Not a good idea."

They looked at one another. It was always a possibility that some member of the group held secret instructions to exert a very final sort of discipline against any others who appeared to be wavering.

It was even possible, theoretically, that the one of them who held such instructions might also act as a provocateur, expressing dissenting opinions to see if anyone else was prepared to agree with them. Even Jesus Christ had his Judas.

Locquifier leaned back. "Instead, let suggest some softer targets. Chose someone for whom the security level is not so high."

Ouvrard nodded. "Ableidinger? That would certainly sow confusion in Franconia. And he's a Lutheran, so it would be plausible to blame it on Richelieu."

Locquifier was still chewing his lip. "No 'lackeys,' remember? Michel is adamant about that. The Richter woman? The one they call Gretchen?"

Ouvrard shook his head. "She's hardly a 'softer target.' She has Committee of Correspondence security coming out of her big tits."

"The up-time admiral and his wife?"

"Possibly," Brillard said, "if we could get close to them while they are in the Netherlands. In Magdeburg, Achterhof and his men have them, also, under a very tight watch."

Locquifier frowned. "But Michel's instructions say that the assassinations must occur in Magdeburg. Just as the death of the pope had to occur in Rome. A country villa somewhere, when Urban VIII was on vacation, would not have done at all. Because of the symbolism. Antoine also emphasizes that it must be Magdeburg. Because it is the new imperial capital. All on the same day. To demonstrate how weak these 'leaders' really are."

"And does Antoine suggest how we should persuade these several people to gather together for us in a convenient group?" Brillard's tone was sarcastic. "Just as one would scarcely expect Stearns' Jewish wife to attend church with William Wettin, I truly do not expect to see all of our possible 'soft targets' in one place at one time, either. Not to mention another small problem."

Locquifier raised his eyebrows.

"Of all of us whom he left behind in Frankfurt," said Mathurin, "I am the only one with enough skill with a rifle to carry out an actual assassination. From any distance, at least. I suppose that either of you, or Gui or Fortunat once they are back with us, might have the same luck with a knife as the man who killed Henri IV. I don't see how we could get that close. Certainly not to the whole group at a public event, which is the only time they are all likely to appear together. Not that I have any qualms about the action itself. I served as a sniper long enough. As a practical matter, having only one competent shot places limits on the grandiosity of our ambitions. Something which Michel and Antoine seem to have forgotten about."

"That's what I managed to overhear," Isaac de Ron finished. He glanced out the window. "I had best be going, my lord. I have been here, supposedly in your cellars talking to the butler, for much longer than I would need to stay for even the most complex delivery of fine wines. Someone might notice."

"I suppose you would not want me to ruin your reputation by having the butler complain in public that you delivered inferior goods and he was rebuking you?"

Benjamin de Rohan, duke of Soubise, was trying to be jocular, but de Ron jerked his head up. "Never!"

"Very well then. I will let my brother know of your fears that Ducos is planning additional assassinations." Soubise stood up.

De Ron withdrew. He recognized permission to depart when he saw it.

On the Main River

Ancelin and Deneau sat quietly in the back of the barge.

Locquifier's assumptions had been wrong. The old woman had no maid or steward or driver. None of the ordinary attendants of a traveling gentlewoman.

She did have a bodyguard, which was unexpected. When she left the Rhine packet at Mainz, the commander of a detachment of guards wearing Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar's livery-guards who were accompanying a young girl-detached four of them to go with "Mrs. Dreeson."

That was presumably because she was the grandmother of Hans Richter. She had no real distinction of her own, but even Frankfurt by now had renamed a square in honor of the "hero of Wismar."

The girl had hugged her. Hard.

Why, they could not imagine.

Nils Brahe, Gustav Adolf's commander in Mainz, had met her in person. She had immediately addressed several complaints to him. She had no information she had not gotten from newspapers. Nobody had sent her any information about her schools. Was Annalise all right? What about the other children? If one of them had died during the summer, she was sure no one had thought to tell her. She had not had a word from Amberg. Had those young idiots Thea and Nicol starved to death when they went off without a bank draft? Where was Elias Brechbuhl? Had Hieronymus Rastetter been in touch? She had no expectations that those Jesuits were any more cooperative now than they had been last spring. Had Cavriani arrived in Geneva safely with his son? Well, of course not-they had probably been set upon by bandits along the way. What about Mary Ward and the English Ladies? Had they all been raped by mercenaries between Neuburg and Grantville? Why was everybody else in the world too busy to tell her anything?

She had continued to make similar comments ever since they got on the barge. Directed, now, not to Brahe, but rather to a young German officer, the head of her bodyguard. She spoke quite clearly. Of course, her false teeth were famous, now. Almost as famous as Wallenstein's jaw. Several newspaper reports covering her escape from Bavaria in company with the "wheelbarrow queen" and the admiral's wife had mentioned the effective way she used them.

Ancelin almost felt sorry for the Archduchess Maria Anna, if she had to put up with this for what must have seemed like two very long months.

The conversation of Veronica Schusterin, verw. Richter, verh. Dreeson, was an apparently unending paean to the concept "cranky." That was all they had learned from their observations.

"I wonder what Guillaume expected us to learn?" Deneau whispered. "Or did he just want to get us out of the way? Do you suppose the others have planning something while we've been gone? Are they going to exclude us from some new project?"

Ancelin shook his head. "It was exactly what he said, probably. A concession to our desire to actually do something. Not just sit in de Ron's back room and talk. Now be quiet. I'm trying to listen."

"Why? Nothing important is going to happen on this stupid boat. I don't think I've ever come across such a pessimistic old lady."

In addition to the two of them, the bodyguards, and old woman, there were several other passengers. One man, dressed in black riding clothes, sitting by himself at the far front, had been escorted to the pier by a couple of Nils Brahe's Swedes.

A courier, probably, Ancelin thought.

Frankfurt am Main

As soon as the barge tied up, the man in black got off. He walked up to the lanky, freckled redhead who was commanding a group of sickly-shade-of-salmon-pinkish-orange-uniformed soldiers. That had to be Utt, the commander of the Fulda Barracks Regiment. Ancelin could figure out that much from the newspaper reports he had read in Mainz. And doesn't that color clash with the man's hair? he thought. Terrible. No sense of style at all. If he had chosen a rich brown, or even a deep shade of rust…

Before he became a conspirator, Gui Ancelin had been a tailor.

But that had been another world. Before Richelieu's siege of La Rochelle, he had also been a man with a wife and three children. A father and two sisters. Before the starvation and the plague brought by the siege. Louis XIII's siege. Richelieu's siege.

The newcomer was waving a sheaf of papers. Utt turned and told off a half-dozen mounted soldiers. They moved away, one of them calling for a water boy to bring up one of the remounts.

A courier, then. Nothing to get excited about. Couriers came and went all the time.

Then the bodyguards debarked. Followed by Frau Dreeson in full spate.

An elderly man limped down the quay to meet her.

"Henry, what were they thinking of, sending you on such a strenuous trip? What if you had fallen? Remember what Doctor Nichols told you. Hip replacements are a thing of the past. Or of the far future, depending upon how a person looks at it. Or the ATV had an accident and you were thrown out? You could have been killed. What good would a hip replacement have done you then, even if you could have one?

"What were you thinking, for that matter, going off and leaving Annalise alone with the children.

"No, it does not matter that Thea and Nicol are there. It is just as well they didn't die, I suppose, but being alive is no remedy for being fools. They were alive when I met them in Grafenwohr and fools there, already. Just one more expense for you, I suppose. It would be too much to hope that they are paying their own way."

By this time, she was halfway up the pier, the bodyguards closed in behind her. Ancelin and Deneau stayed at the rear of the other debarking passengers, but they could still hear her voice, ranting away.

Then she reached the head of the pier, where the formal reception party was waiting. Stopped. Lifted her head and smoothed her face.

"I am honored to make the acquaintance of the Burgermeister and councilmen of Frankfurt and their gracious wives."

The Burgermeister turned to another man. "Permit me to present you to Monsieur le duc de Soubise, a guest in our city."

The wrinkled old harridan curtsied quite properly.

Ancelin couldn't quite believe it.

Of course, he had never encountered the Abbess of Quedlinburg.

The Burgermeister had turned to his prominent guest again. " Monsieur le duc, may I present Mayor Henry Dreeson of Grantville. Herr Wesley Jenkins, the State of Thuringia-Franconia's administrator in Fulda. His wife. Major Derek Utt." He proceeded through the litany, having carefully memorized the list that his secretary had given him the evening before.

Soubise inclined his head. "It is my pleasure. My brother, the duke of Rohan, has already met one of your fellow-countrymen, Monsieur Thomas Stone. In Padua, where he presented him with an autographed copy of his translation of the life of Duchess Renee of Ferrara. He was very favorably impressed with Monsieur Stone's lectures and delighted to extend hospitality to his son Elrond at his current headquarters in Switzerland. He finds him to be a very promising young man."

The Grantville contingent blinked but, all things considered, bore up well under this rather startling information.

Occasionally, the newspapers did miss something.

Chapter 16

Frankfurt am Main

"Angry people are, mostly, just angry people," said Henry Dreeson. "It's their nature. Solve one of their problems and they'll find something else to be angry about. Maybe because you solved it and took away their gripe."

Henry figured that this ceremonial banquet with the Frankfurt bigwigs was going fine. Shop talk was shop talk, wherever you found it. Names kept floating past his ears. Gunderrode. Zum Jungen. Both of them named Hector, which was sort of peculiar. He hadn't met any Germans in Grantville named Hector. Maybe they were relatives.. Stalburger. A couple of men with a "von" in front of their names, though he didn't understand why nobles would be city councillors. But "Baur von Somewhere" didn't actually sound very much like he descended from some medieval knight in shining armor, and neither did "Wei? von Somewhere Else." Recent promotions, maybe-guys who had bought the farm, or at least the estate, in the most literal sense of the word.

Down the table, past the Burgermeister, one of the councilmen was starting to rant about the dangers of popular revolution. Sounded like Tino Nobili going full tilt. He turned his head a little to direct his good ear toward the man. "Popular election to choose the council is the worst idea I've ever heard. And I've heard it before. If you let these CoC rabble into the city government… Why, the last time, twenty years ago, it took us two years to get the movement under control."

As usual. The municipal equivalent of generals fighting the last war.

"The gates of the ghetto are barricaded. The main difference from twenty years ago is that this time the defenders are armed, as well." The printer Crispin Neumann finished his report. He was known to have connections in Frankfurt's Jewish ghetto, although most people were too polite to specify what they were-namely, that his grandfather had been a convert to Lutheranism; he still had relatives who lived there.

The members of the Frankfurt city council looked at one another.

"Isn't there any way you can head it off?" Henry figured that maybe he wasn't expected to talk, him not being a citizen of Frankfurt; but, what the hell, the Burgermeister had invited him to come to the meeting. He looked at the militia captain. "I mean, this town can't be that different from Grantville. Our police know to keep an eye on the 250 Club when certain sorts of things come up. Don't your watchmen do the same thing? Have a sort of list of trouble spots, that is? Even if it's in their own heads and not written down anywhere?

The captain nodded; started to say something.

In the back of the room, someone stood up. Henry peered through his glasses. Sergeant Hartke's wife? The Danish woman, Dagmar?

"It is work righteousness to attack the Jews!"

Everyone in the room blinked.

"These men in the taverns are not good Lutherans! Think, only think!"

Her German was beginning to fray a little at the edges, but she clearly had something to say. Cunz Kastenmayer slid, as inconspicuously as possible, away from his post. He had been standing behind Mayor Dreeson's left shoulder, translating whenever a conversation between the Grantvillers and the leading lights of Frankfurt politics became too complex for either the councilmen's limited English or Dreeson's less limited, but still far from fluent, German.

"Think of the words of Paul Speratus!"

Every Lutheran in the room, obediently, thought of the words of Paul Speratus. They could do that effortlessly, of course. The hymn "Salvation Unto Us Has Come" had been a staple of the Lutheran liturgy for a century. They all knew it by heart.

"Think!" Dagmar boomed again. She started reciting in Danish, but Cunz repeated the German after her.

"It is a false, misleading dream

That God his law has given

That sinners can themselves redeem

And by their works gain heaven.

The law is but a mirror bright

To bring the inbred sin to light

That lurks within our nature.

"See!" Dagmar proclaimed. "These men who attack the poor Jews. Like little Riffa's parents, who are the sutlers at Barracktown now. Or her husband, David Kronberg, at the post office. Who has an aunt and uncle who have adopted him…" She paused for effect. "… and who live right here in Frankfurt! " Her voice, deep and stentorian at most times, rose to a shrill dramatic screech. "They are trying to earn heaven by their works, these anti-Semites, as you call them. But, remember-

"Christ came and has God's anger stilled,

Our human nature sharing.

He has for us the law obeyed

And thus the Father's vengeance stayed

Which over us impended.

"It is Christ's atonement that saves us. Not actions such as killing usurers. Which means," she concluded triumphantly, "that these men, these mutterers against the Jews, are doctrinally unsound! "

Cunz would have been struck dumb with admiration if it hadn't been his duty to keep translating. No one could possibly have come up with a condemnation of attacking the ghetto that would have a deeper resonance in a Lutheran city. Anti-Semitism as "doctrinally unsound" work righteousness. How…

Inspired.

Dagmar sat down. He returned to his assigned place at Mayor Dreeson's shoulder.

***

"What are you planning to do then?" the militia captain asked. "Create what Nathan Prickett would call a 'thin blue line' around the ghetto?"

He hadn't been in the planning meeting. He had been off getting his lieutenants to agree to go along with the program. Whatever the program might prove to be.

" Ach, nein." The Burgermeister gestured expansively. "There are not enough of us in the city government to surround it if there is a coordinated attack. Besides, since the ghetto is armed this time, not to mention reinforced…"

The militia captain nodded. A fair number of Frankfurt's CoC members had somehow managed to be inside the ghetto when the elders of the Jewish community barricaded the gates.

"… we might be caught in crossfire. Which would be stupid of us. Dreeson, the Grantviller, mentioned that his daughter had many favorite words. One of them was proactive. This means that we do not wait for the mutterers to finish getting organized. We will not wait for an attack on the ghetto."

The captain was pretty sure that he would not like what came next. "So, then…"

"We shall be proactive. We march on the taverns where the mutterers gather. Tonight."

"Your cane will slip on a cobblestone wet with this mist. You will break your hip."

Henry Dreeson shook his head. "Nonsense, Ronnie. Anyway, if the hip has to go one of these days, at least it'll be going in a good cause. And 'march' doesn't mean 'be carried along in a litter.' Anyway, there'd be just as much chance that one of the litter bearers would slip on a wet cobblestone, fall, and throw me out. That would be a longer way down and a harder landing than if I trip myself."

Veronica glared at him. "Then," she said, "I am marching with you. Only to hold your other arm, mind you. Only to steady you if your cane should not be enough. Not for some stupid heroic cause such as the one that led Hans to his death."

Frankfurt's militia officers were, by order of the council, in full ceremonial uniform. The type of uniform that they normally wore only to awards banquets. With sashes, satin trousers, lace collars, and polished boots. Items that were both difficult and expensive to clean.

The militia captain gave his instructions. He had a loud and booming voice that carried well, too. Not in the Ableidinger league, but plenty loud enough. "One company surrounds each of the target taverns right after the bells toll. Ensure that no one leaves. Those who resist will be shot. Those who surrender will be arrested."

As usual, Nathan Prickett noted a bit cynically, seventeenth century notions of legitimate police work diverged sharply from twentieth. Granted that they were a bunch of loudmouthed anti-Semites, the men in the taverns who were about to be set upon by the city militia hadn't actually done anything illegal. They weren't even drunk and disorderly yet.

Fat lot of good it would do them.

The militia lieutenants nodded firmly at their captain's instructions.

"Ensure it. You have the best of the guns from Blumroder. Your men know how to use them. No one leaves."

The captain looked around. On the average, the militiamen looked more enthusiastic about the evening's proposed project than the lieutenants did. That was Nathan's assessment, anyway, and it seemed the captain shared it.

"If anyone tries to leave a tavern," he bellowed, "the man who shoots him will succeed to the lieutenancy of the company. If more than one man tries to leave at the same time, every man in the company who shoots will receive a substantial reward."

That ought to stiffen everyone's back a bit. Not to mention encouraging the lieutenants to do a little shooting themselves. It wasn't an empty threat. Judging from their own vigorous nodding, the council had already agreed to the provision.

"In the front row with the Burgermeister." The city council secretary had a list, by which he was lining up the order of march.

"I have never entered some of these neighborhoods in my life," one of the councilmen muttered.

"Maybe it will do you some good. You can learn how the other half lives."

He started to sputter; then decided that sputtering at the grandmother of the "hero of Wismar," right at this moment, was not the best idea.

The Grantville mayor was on the left hand of the Burgermeister. On his right hand-the unhappy councilman grimaced-was the Danish woman who had disrupted the council hearing. And, behind the civic officials, the orange uniforms of the Fulda Barracks Regiment.

Henry looked around and yelled, "Jeffie?"

Jeffrey Garand looked rather anxiously at Derek Utt. "Derek? Uh? I mean, Major Utt?"

"Go on."

Jeffie ran to the front line.

"Is that your flute, you've got there in your hand?"

"Ah, yeah, Mr. Dreeson. It's not standard, I know, for one of the sergeants to double as a piper, but, well, I've got it, and we're not quite fully staffed, so…"

"You were in the marching band, weren't you? In high school?"

'Um-hmmn."

"Can you still play 'Hey, Look Me Over'?"

Jeffie sighed. "In my sleep."

"Then get on up here with the drums. We're stepping out."

The Frankfurt municipal drum corps was good. They caught on to Jeffie's rhythm in no time.

Soubise and Sandrart, watching the preparations, made particular note of the three companies of orange uniforms at the rear of the procession.

"Pour encourager les autres, I presume," the brother of the duke of Rohan remarked.

Nathan Prickett felt obliged to march with one of the militia companies, seeing as how he'd provided the arms for most of them. On the other hand, since he wasn't actually a member of the militia, he didn't feel obliged to march in the front rank. So he more or less hung around in the third rank. Close enough to "show the flag," not close enough to get hurt-well, not likely-in case the would-be pogromists in the taverns decided to fight back.

Some of them did fight, in fact, including the ones in the tavern that Nathan's company marched against. But it was a pretty lame sort of thing. You might almost call it desultory, except there was nothing desultory about the man dying in the doorway of the tavern. He'd been the first one shot, as he came rushing out with an old musket, and it took a while before he stopped howling in agony. He'd been shot three times, all the wounds coming low down in his hips and abdomen. One of the militiamen might have shot him again just to put him out of his misery, but the other anti-Semites in the tavern had chosen to pour out of a side door and that had distracted the company.

The first three of them got shot dead, too, but they were killed almost instantly.

The rest surrendered. One of them, it seemed, had piled up a few too many grudges over the years. The militia company just plain refused to accept his surrender and shot him about half a dozen times. The others got off with nothing worse than a fair-to-middling beating with gun butts before they were marched down to the city's jail. Well, what passed for a jail. Back up-time, the SPCA would have screamed bloody murder if you'd stuffed rats in that hole.

After checking around later-Henry Dreeson had a really good eye for these things and so did Sandrart, oddly enough-Nathan concluded that the experience of his militia company was about standard. Middle of the road experience, anyway. Some company had a tougher fight, but some didn't run into any opposition at all. Their targets just ran off.

"Maybe we ought to hold off on the popular revolution for a little while," the chief theorist of the Frankfurt CoC said the next day. "Pay a little more attention to some of the stuff that Spartacus is publishing. Maybe we can work out a modus vivendi with the council. After all, if Gretchen Richter's own grandmother marched with members of the city council… not against them."

The others nodded, including the chairman.

There was no way for them know why Veronica had marched. Or that Gretchen hadn't known anything about the plan, much less approved her grandmother's participation in the activity.

It was impressive, Soubise wrote to his brother. I have been, to some extent, surprised by the effectiveness of the Grantville mayor during this political tour. It was, after all, no more than a provincial town before the Ring of Fire. Not even a provincial capital. Nonetheless, he, in cooperation with Constantin Ableidinger, has proven to be effective in encouraging the successful integration of the former Franconian territories into the SoTF.

His wife, of course…

After that paragraph, he stopped to think again.

De Ron has not managed to gather any additional information in regard to what Locquifier may be planning. I still have hopes that continued observation of the men staying at the inn Zum Weissen Schwan will provide us with information as to where Ducos has gone to ground.

Dear Ruben, Nathan Prickett wrote to Blumroder in Suhl.

I expect you'll already have heard about all the excitement last night before this letter gets to you, so I'll stick to what's important. The new guns that the firm provided to the militia performed really well. I was real pleased with the results. Even though it was damp and toward the end of the evening it started to drizzle, there were hardly any misfires.

Two of the militia lieutenants lost their jobs over it, but since we've been working through the city council and the captain, that shouldn't affect sales.

He figured that it wasn't worth wasting postage on a letter to Don Francisco. He was bound to hear all about it from a lot of other people. But someone else was sure going to expect a personal report from Johnny-on-the spot. He picked up another piece of paper.

Dear Chandra.

Erfurt

Simon Jones spread the various newspapers out on the table, sorting them by date. "I've got to say," he commented, "that it seems to have played really well in Copenhagen."

It certainly had.

Any reporter worth his wages could see the drama of a Danish woman, a Danish commoner, showing the way to the patricians of an imperial city; more, showing the way to the up-timers; to the officials of the United States of Europe, even. Jason Waters was worth his wages, and more.

Headlines, and then more headlines.

It didn't quite salve the pride of Denmark for having been forced into a second Union of Kalmar. But it sure helped.

Christian IV would present a medal to Dagmar Nilsdotter, wife of Sergeant Helmuth Hartke of the State of Thuringia-Franconia's own Fulda Barracks Regiment.

More headlines.

The same regiment that had, a short while before, heroically rescued Wesley Jenkins, the State of Thuringia-Franconia's civilian administrator of Buchenland, and his wife, his down-timer wife, from durance vile. (No need to mention that the jailers had already fled, leaving them nothing to do but unlock the door. Picayune details remained picayune details).

Even more headlines.

Christian IV would award the medal as soon as Dagmar could travel to Copenhagen, that was. She was expecting a baby in November.

The heroine was not a virago, not a masculinized Amazon, but an honest Lutheran wife and mother.

Gustavus Adolphus, not to be outdone or upstaged, would award a medal as soon as Dagmar Nilsdotter could travel to Magdeburg.

Christian IV announced that he would travel to Barracktown bei Fulda and present the medal in person as soon as the mother-to-be had recovered from the travails of childbirth.

Gustavus Adolphus, very busy but always alert to a good PR opportunity, announced that Princess Kristina would travel to Barracktown bei Fulda and present the medal in person.

Christian IV announced that he and his future daughter-in-law would fly to Fulda together and present the medals simultaneously.

Derek Utt and Wes Jenkins, after contemplating the topography of the immediate region, sent off a brief radio message that said, in essence, "not unless they intend to parachute out of the damned plane, they won't." To the distress of the politicians, the pilots agreed with their assessment.

Erfurt, then. Christian IV and Kristina would fly to Erfurt and proceed the rest of the way in a motorized vehicle.

That was where things stood at the moment the latest of the papers had gone to press. The reporter's breathless prose ended with: "Stand by for further announcements."

Ron Stone nodded his head. "Ain't radio communication grand?"

Chapter 17

Frankfurt am Main

Guillaume Locquifier pinched the candle out and lay on his pallet, thinking.

They should have taken out the Stone brothers when they had the chance. Lackeys or not. Everything that had gone wrong in Rome had been the fault of those… He couldn't think of a suitable epithet. The sons of Tom Stone were in a category beyond epithets, whatever Michel said regarding their insignificance.

The woman Veronica. The security surrounding her in Frankfurt had not been tight, except during the march itself. That had only been an artifact of the security surrounding the important civic officials.

In one way, though, Antoine was perfectly correct. She was only important because of her relatives. There was no reason on earth for Richelieu to order her assassination. No reason for anyone to order her assassination.

Except, perhaps, her own family. If the reports that Gui and Fortunat had given about her general temperament, as they had observed it on the barge from Mainz to Frankfurt, were correct, then it would seem quite possible that almost any near relative might wish to see the end of her. But that would be personal, not political.

Symbolism. Antoine wanted symbolism. When Antoine wanted it, Michel ordered it.

Richelieu, once, had sent the Croats against Grantville.

An assassination in Grantville itself? Everyone would blame that on Richelieu at once. Which would be… very satisfactory.

Symbolism.

Piazza perhaps? He was their president. The same office that Stearns had previously held, which would be a clear symbolic link.

Or a down-timer? Ableidinger when he was in Grantville. He came, occasionally, to consult with Piazza.

Or…

He fell asleep.

"It is clear to me now."

The other four men looked at Locquifier.

"It came to me in a dream a few days ago. The riot against the Jews. The riot here in Frankfurt that did not happen. That is something we can do."

"Here in Frankfurt?" Deneau looked puzzled.

"We have a guest." Locquifier opened the door and beckoned to de Ron, who showed another man in. "I would like to introduce Vincenz Weitz. He has a proposal for us."

Brillard knew the man. By reputation, at least. Weitz was a teamster. He spent most of his time going back and forth from Frankfurt into the little jigsaw puzzle that Nils Brahe had turned into the Province of the Upper Rhine the previous summer, hauling wine. He and a half-dozen or so like-minded friends had been prominent among the anti-Semitic mutterers after the explosion at the Sachsenhausen redoubt. Not from Frankfurt, most of them-other haulers of heavy freight. A useful occupation. They were men who were regularly on the move from place to place. It did not attract any special attention from city authorities when the came or when they left.

At Locquifier's invitation, Weitz began talking. He was arguing that it would be a major propaganda coup if they could destroy the synagogue in Grantville, thus demonstrating that the up-timers were either unable (too weak) or unwilling (thus hypocritical) to maintain in practice, right in the center of their power, the religious freedom that they advocated putting into the proposed constitution for the entire United States of Europe.

"This will destabilize Richelieu how?" Brillard asked.

Locquifier smiled. "By angering Stearns so much that he drops his opposition to the more punitive aspects of the treaty that Gustavus Adolphus intends to impose on the French."

Brillard blinked. That was… really quite good.

Ancelin nodded. "Such an attack would enable us to take propaganda advantage of the entire controversy going on between the Fourth of July Party and the Crown Loyalists on the topic of the level of religious toleration and the issue of a state church."

Ouvrard jumped up. "He is right. Everyone has heard of the Grantville's synagogue. Of their anarchist 'freedom of religion.' We must destroy that synagogue. Wipe out the ghetto that exists like a worm in the heart of their little radish."

Brillard stifled a smile. Clearly, Robert had not forgotten an unfortunate event that had marked the previous evening's supper. It was rare for de Ron to serve bad produce. He bought through a local grocery wholesaler name Peter Appel. Yesterday night, however… After Robert's experience, the rest of them had used their knives to cut their radishes in half before eating them. Which had proven to be a prudent precaution. Clearly, a field somewhere had an infestation of worms. Which was not immediately relevant, other than to the production of bad metaphors and similes, perhaps.

"They don't have a ghetto," Ancelin said. "The synagogue is right out on an open street in the heart of the town. Close to the meeting of two bridges, which is the closest thing they have to a decent market square. I've seen it marked on my map of the Croat Raid."

Weitz spoke up again. "So much the better. We will show that the up-timers cannot even protect their own pet Jews. They have built no palisade for them, leaving them open to random attacks."

"Their lack of city walls was not precisely a problem during the Croat Raid," Ancelin pointed out.

Brilliard leaned back, chewing on his upper lip. Neither Ducos nor Delerue had anything against the Israelites. Nor did he, himself. Clearly, God, for some incomprehensible reason, did not want the Jews to become Christian. If He wanted them to, they would scarcely have an option, no matter how stubborn and hard-hearted they might be. God was, after all, omnipotent.

Still, Weitz was right about one basic fact. There was a synagogue in Grantville. That might work as a starting point.

"There are five of us," Deneau said. "Five. One, two, three, four, five. I've organized riots and demonstrations before. How can our small group possibly attack two major targets at the same time, Weitz? At least, with any hope of success. We could, I suppose, lie down in front of the buildings and offer ourselves to be arrested on a matter of principle."

"The attack will succeed this time. I will plan better than the Croat leader did. We will…" Weitz paused.

"We?"

"I have allies. Aschmann, from Hesse; Meininger, from Schleusingen; Heft from Bamberg; others. All of whom have their own ties. You will only need to provide a distraction somewhere else. Draw their police forces away from the synagogue. Only then will my men advance."

Once Weitz had left, Ouvrard frowned. "I still don't like it. There are so few of us."

"We can give ourselves time to bring in some of our other men from La Rochelle," Ancelin said.

"So we write to Chalifour. Who will he send? Not Marin Girard-in her last letter, Jeanne said he had gone out of town with Etienne Lorion. Olivier won't part with Piquet or Marchant. Who does that leave? Leon Boucher. Georges Turpin, perhaps. Why would we want them?" Deneau threw his hands up in the air. "Even if he sent Plante and Baudin also-so we have nine men instead of five. How much does that help?"

"Jeanne shouldn't be writing about whether they are in town or out. It's none of her business," Ouvrard griped.

"How can she keep from knowing? They sleep in her attic. They eat in her kitchen. When Chalifour doesn't have jobs for them, they work in her brother's knife-grinding shop."

"Even if she knows, she doesn't have to tell you about it."

"I'm her husband."

Locquifier stood up. "We can hire others for the distraction. They don't need to know what is going on. Ordinary street thugs. Mauger has an informant in place in Grantville. He can organize that."

"Not the school. The Croats failed in their attack on the school, because…" Ancelin started to unroll his map. He truly loved his map of the Croat Raid on Grantville. He spent hours studying it.

"We must not let Mauger's man in Grantville know about the synagogue." Locquifier shook his head. "That would make it necessary for us to let him, whoever he is, know too much about our overall goals and purposes. We will use hired thugs for only one. Only for the distraction, but Mauger's man must not know that it is a distraction. He must think it is all we are planning. Fortunat and Vincenz must take direct responsibility for the synagogue."

"Is it a good idea to keep Mauger's agent so far out of the loop?" Ancelin asked.

"We must," Locquifier said. "It is policy."

Mathurin Brillard leaned against the wall, remembering Delerue's "Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing." It was pretty hard to argue with that one. Although given the complexity of what Guillaume was now planning, the "wheels within wheels" of Ezekiel 1: 15-17 might be more appropriate.

Ouvrard looked over Ancelin's shoulder. "What should we tell him to target, then, if not the school? "

"There are three schools." Ancelin pointed. "But the building they call the 'middle school' is very near the synagogue, so it would not be of any use at all. The police could easily see from one to the other and move to the second disturbance."

Not any of the schools. For one thing, somewhere during the discussion, they had decided on March 4. A Sunday. In the morning. The schools would be empty.

Ancelin studied the map for a few minutes more. "The hospital. The one with the famous Moorish surgeon. It's far enough away. Since the other attack is to be on the synagogue, it is all to the good that they permit Balthazar Abrabanel to practice there, since he is Jewish. And the father of Stearns' wife." He moved his finger. "Perhaps we can actually do them enough damage to please Michel."

"Laurent Mauger must know nothing of what we plan. We must use him as a courier only. I emphasize this as strongly as I can." Locquifier tapped on the table.

"Are you sure we can rely on him? That he won't open our instructions?" Ouvrard was a congenital pessimist.

"The only sure things are death and taxes. So far, though, there haven't been any leaks from the letters we have sent to Michel through his firm." Deneau looked at Robert. "Just have de Ron flatter him a little. Congratulate him on his prudence and forethought in having someone in place."

"Do we know who his local informant is? If we're planning to use the man to organize a demonstration, not just as a source of information, maybe we should find out more about him. After all, he isn't one of ours."

"No, I don't think so, Robert. We can't control every single detail. As long as we strictly limit what information we send via Mauger, it should be safe enough." Locquifier paused in his finger tapping. "All he needs to know is that he is to find a pretext and, on the specified date, carry out a demonstration against the Leahy Medical Center."

"True. Not one word to him about the synagogue. That, we will manage ourselves."

"There should be some pamphlets," Locquifier said. "Something disseminating a sense of growing discontent. So the demonstration at the hospital will not come as a complete surprise, totally disconnected from the 'will of the people' of which the up-timers claim to be so fond."

Laurent Mauger had begun to wonder whether or not keeping an informant in place in Grantville, full time on the ground, was worth the expense, since the real center of political action in the USE had moved to Magdeburg. Now, however, he was reassured. De Ron said that his employer was pleased. That Mauger was to make sure he had an agent in place there, and to prepare that person to conduct an important propaganda blitz.

He was not only reassured. He could (and did) congratulate himself on his wisdom in not having transferred Jacques-Pierre Dumais somewhere else. In spite of the extra cost he had absorbed by hiring someone else in that someplace else.

The thought of hauling crates of pamphlets from Frankfurt to Grantville did not please him. He rarely rode. Because of his bulk, it was too hard on all but the largest and strongest of horses. But he preferred a lightweight wagon, a cart, really. He only hauled enough wine for his personal use, and let teamsters move the commercial loads. That's what freight companies were for. Pamphlets would be too heavy. He would just get Dumais his own duplicating machine.

At least he now had a good reason to visit Grantville again. The Higgins Hotel. The hot tub. Aahhh.

Grantville

"It is part of the 'destabilization' campaign against Richelieu."

"What is the connection?"

Mauger frowned. The truth was that he could not perceive much connection between demonstrating against the hospital in Grantville and undermining Richelieu's position in the French government.

Dumais laughed. "Ah, well. They have a poem, these up-timers, from a war in the Crimea that, now, will probably never happen. 'Ours not to reason why, ours but to do or die." If they want a demonstration, they shall have one. I assure you. But why, specifically, on the fourth of March?"

"They simply had to pick a date, I presume. It is far enough away that you will have plenty of time to make arrangements. Now, as for money…"

Jacques-Pierre poured another glass of wine.

Yes. There were possibilities associated with his dinner companions.

Laurent Mauger was a lonely man. He had talked quite a lot during the course of their association. While he was grieving after the death of his wife, his sons and nephews had extracted a pledge from him that he would not remarry and beget a second family. They didn't want to see their inheritances dispersed. Not just a promise. A legally binding contract.

As far as he knew, Mauger's pledge had not contained any proviso about remarriage to a woman beyond childbearing age. Any widow required some provision for her support, of course, but was a temporary thing that reverted to her husband's family after her death. Not the same thing as shares allotted to additional children.

Madame Velma Hardesty, in addition to being Michael Stearns' cousin, was not a bad-looking woman-for a sleazy floozy. Silently, Jacques-Pierre rolled the English words on his tongue; he appreciated their euphony. She must sans doute be beyond childbearing age. He could scarcely confirm it, of course, since it would not be tactful for him to ask and would be most out of character for him to investigate that at the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Doing things that were out of character drew attention to oneself: something to be scrupulously avoided. But the oldest daughter, he had ascertained, was past twenty. And there had been a first marriage, which had produced the hopefully-to-become-a-valuable-contact son in the army. With the up-timer women it was hard to judge from their appearance, but presuming that she had married at the normal age, even a little young

… She had to be fifty, at least.

Mauger was taking a good look. Madame Hardesty was talking about money again. Money, Jacques-Pierre knew, was something that Laurent Mauger had plenty of.

Jacques-Pierre poured more wine. Mauger had brought plenty of that, too.

Madame Hardesty said that It Was Meant to Be.

Jacques-Pierre had missed something while he was thinking about Mauger. He nodded his head solemnly. When Madame Hardesty said that something was Meant to Be, it was usually followed by a quotation from her most recent horoscope. Nodding seemed safe enough.

Madame Hardesty was certainly Meant to leave Grantville. Preferably before her conversation drove him insane.

Mauger leaned far enough forward that he could look down Madame Hardesty's yellow-eyelet-ruffle outlined cleavage.

Velma went to bed feeling pretty good about things.

Mauger went to bed thinking about Madame Hardesty's beauty. Particularly her lack of a corset.

Jacques-Pierre went home to unpack his new Vignelli duplicating machine. At least the Dutchman had brought quite a few useful things this time. Plus instructions.

Nothing about Ducos or Locquifier. Mauger never mentioned their names, but that was not surprising. Mauger's awareness didn't go beyond Isaac de Ron. Behind de Ron, in the background, there was some wealthy Huguenot patriot whom he represented, as far as Mauger was concerned.

Jacques-Pierre's own belief was that after the debacle associated with the failed attempt to assassinate the pope in Rome the previous summer, Ducos and his closest associates had somehow managed to find a hiding place in England, so it made sense that his directives would be coming through the Netherlands and Frankfurt now.

Interesting instructions. And the wonderful provision of a genuine duplicating machine. Jacques Pierre drummed his fingers on the table. Propaganda and planning. The coming winter would not be dull.

If only he could get rid of Velma Hardesty before he succumbed permanently to la migraine.

"I tell you, Veda Mae, I grinned when I looked in the mirror." Velma gestured dramatically, to draw attention to her nails. She was getting a lot of good, now, from the fact that back up-time she hadn't been able to walk into a drugstore without buying cosmetics. She still had nail polish. Today, her nails featured an azure undercoat with white tips and a little glitter on each one.

"What do you have to grin about?"

"Just look at me! Jacques-Pierre comes over to the trailer and talks to me for an hour or two at least three or four times a week. He's giving me ideas that I'm supposed to Meditate on. Mental Enlightenment and Spiritual Comfort. It's done wonders. I have to admit it."

"You're about as able to meditate as… as… an ostrich."

"I do try to meditate, just like he says. A whole five minutes, twice a day. And to share my new insights. He gives me Themes. For each one of them, I'm supposed to walk around town every day until I've talked to at least four people. I'm supposed to Share Words of Enlightened Wisdom."

"Have people started to run when they see you coming?"

"Well, of course not. I'm supposed to share each Theme with four different people. I don't bother with that, most of the time. Whenever he gives me a new one, I share it with the receptionist at the Probate Court and the receptionist in Maurice Tito's office, since I have to go talk to them about Susan's money and the custody of Susan, anyway. Dropping off papers and things like that."

"Captive audiences, then. Figures."

"But I have to do extra walking to find enough people to share the rest of the Themes. By now, I know almost every place in town where I can be sure of finding several all at once. The checkout line at the grocery store. The line for the circulation desk at the public library. I figure that even if I just say it to the person behind the counter, I've had shared it with everyone in line. Don't you think so?"

"More captive audiences."

"With all the extra walking, I've lost four pounds. If the bathroom scale is right, which I can't guarantee. It's ancient. Really, having someone who listens to me-really listens-has made so much difference in my life. So I owe you."

Veda Mae blinked.

"I can see what you were trying to tell me, now. It really does have to be Meant that Jacques-Pierre came to Grantville. He agrees that I ought to have custody of Susan. Or, least, take care of her money. He promised to help me. At least, he nodded his head the other evening, when I said it was Meant to Be."

"Mummph."

"So now I'll pay even more attention to his other suggestions in regard to Mental Enlightenment and Spiritual Comfort."

"I bet there isn't a single soul in Grantville who believes that the only comfort he's offered you is spiritual."

"Hell, Veda Mae. I scarcely believe it myself. But let me tell you something, Even if Jean-Pierre isn't interested, his friend Laurent Mauger definitely is. A girl can tell that kind of thing."

As soon as Mauger left town again-his comings and goings served more or less as punctuation marks for the sentences that Jacques-Pierre's experiences in Grantville were writing in the story of his life-it was time to send another report to Henri de Rohan.

Dumais passed on what Mauger brought him in the way of new instructions from de Ron. Exactly and precisely as he had received them. Since de Ron would also be sending a report to the duke, the duke could worry about the question of whether Mauger had manipulated or misinterpreted anything.

In response to a question he had received from the duke himself, Jacques-Pierre confirmed his belief that that Henry Dreeson and his wife Veronica had, during this autumn, become some sort of symbols-icons or "morale builders" as the up-timers described it-of significance beyond the town of Grantville itself. Even beyond the borders of West Virginia County. Possibly even beyond the borders of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. He included things he'd heard various people say about Dreeson's "your local government in action" tour over in the Fulda and Frankfurt region.

***

"When are you going back to Magdeburg?" Jacques-Pierre asked. He didn't mind having a sandwich with Bryant Holloway here at the Willard Hotel in the evenings. The food was awful, true. But otherwise it was more pleasant than the 250 Club. It certainly smelled better.

"Not right away. I guess Steve has some inkling that Stannard and I aren't the best of pals. He's sending me over to Frankfurt, on a temporary assignment, to work with the militia on getting fire prevention up to standard there. Actually, even though Frankfurt is Kraut country too, this won't be bad."

"In what way?"

"Well, for one thing, it will let me save some money. Nathan Prickett-he's married to my wife's sister-is over there, working on getting the city militia used to the new weapons systems that Suhl is delivering to the USE. I can stay with him; not pay rent. I should be back about the middle of December. Before Christmas, anyhow."

"Ah. This man Prickett. He is your brother-in-law?"

"No. That would be the relationship if he was married to my sister Lola. Or if I had married his sister. I'm not exactly sure myself what you call someone who's married to your wife's sister. If you're interested in finding out, I could introduce you to some of the ladies in the Genealogy Club. They know that sort of stuff."

"I would appreciate it." Jacques-Pierre meant that quite sincerely. Whenever he received a new introduction, to find out the answer to some question that he was legitimately asking, it gave him wonderful entree into more of Grantville. From some member of this genealogy club, perhaps he really could come to have a reason to go places like the Bureau of Vital Statistics. With all of its files that were guarded so protectively by the formidable Ms. Jenny Maddox.

"Actually," Bryant was saying. "Prickett's mom belongs that club. I'll introduce you to her. And he might have been my brother-in-law if things had turned out different. He dated Lola for a while, before he started going out with Chandra Jenkins and Lola married Latham Beckworth. Grantville was a pretty small town, after all, before the Ring of Fire. Everybody knew everybody else, just about, and a lot of us are related to each other. He and Lola got into a big fight about politics and broke up. She was pretty much a left wing Democrat and he sure wasn't. It added a certain something to their relationship. They'd done it three or four times before-fought and broken up. I was sort of surprised when the last time turned out to be permanent."

"This Beckworth, then, is your brother-in-law."

"Not any more. They're divorced and both looking, sort of. They've been stuck at that level for five years, though, so I'm not holding my breath that either one of them will get married again. She caught his eyes wandering while she still hadn't quite gotten her figure back from the second kid. Well, more than his eyes wandering. She caught him and this other gal doing the horizontal tango, ten toes up and ten toes down."

"She initiated the divorce procedure, then?"

"Damn tootin'. Hell, but she was mad. Called Mom and Dad, who drove over from Clarksburg. Called me-I was working in Fairmont then. Called Latham's father. It's got to be humiliating for a woman when her husband goes out and diddles a woman a dozen years older than she is. The stuff she said about Velma, you would hardly believe."

"Velma?" Jacques-Pierre asked tentatively.

"Velma Hardesty," Bryant answered. "You know her. I've seen you talking to each other."

"Yes, I do know her. We were introduced by Veda Mae Haggerty."

"Just like us, huh?" Bryant commented.

Jacques-Pierre nodded. He was thinking that Velma Hardesty could become a liability. More than merely a cause of la migraine. When Mauger got back…

Jacques-Pierre did not particularly like the fat Netherlander, but the man was rich. Certainly rich enough to attract Madame Hardesty. Certainly, if all went well, rich enough to remove her from this town.

That wasn't part of his assignment, of course. But in some things, a man had to look out for his own welfare. Take the initiative. Much more of Madame Hardesty's conversation and he would run out into the night, screaming.

Mauger had not tried to lay a hand on Madame Hardesty. When he left town the morning after their introduction, though, she had come to the hotel to tell him good-bye. He had assured her that he would be back in a few weeks.

That was a possibility with some potential. If properly managed, it might even offer some hope.

Chapter 18

Grantville

Simon Jones stood at the livery stable next to the still-under-construction St. Thomas the Apostle Lutheran Church, right outside the Ring of Fire, on the main road to Badenburg. Really the not-yet-much-more-than-a-foundation St. Thomas the Apostle church. With winter coming on, it would probably keep that status until next spring.

They had come into Grantville from the west. The trip back had been shorter. The Duchy of Tirol had granted them safe-conducts. It seemed that among the changes in the political picture, the duchess-regent there, who was Italian, was sending out feelers to the USE. Probably nervous about Maximilian of Bavaria.

Coming through Bavaria would not have been prudent. Not at all. Swabia was still really uneasy, too. So they'd gone northwest through Switzerland, and then down the Rhine. Whatever else Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar might be up to, he was keeping the river open for commercial traffic. Then, up the Main to Frankfurt, the Imperial Road to Erfurt, and then the Erfurt-Badenburg-Grantville route.

The crews had done a lot to improve the Badenburg-Grantville road since the embassy left for Venice last winter. Of course, Thuringia had been through another prime road-improvement season since then. Now the road was not only graded and ditched, with a single wagon-width of gravel for bad weather, but macadamized on a double track, starting right where Route 250 came to an end and going all the way to Badenburg. Same thing from there up to the trade route.

After he had transferred the Gentileschis' luggage, he looked down toward the trolley stop just inside the Ring of Fire's border. He was very glad to be getting off a horse and onto a trolley. Very. He understood the priorities that were pushing the railroad north past Magdeburg. It would be great when a spur went west. It would be worth a big detour not to have to travel from Erfurt by horseback.

Pushing it south was so far off that there wasn't even any point in dreaming. He'd probably be dead before people could get on the train in Nurnberg and get off again in Grantville.

Ron and Gerry Stone, ignoring the trolley, were starting off for Lothlorien on foot. He looked after them, a little wistfully. Thirty or forty years ago, he would have had that much energy, too. At the age of fifty-two, he welcomed a seat on the trolley. A seat in which he could sit and worry about Gerry until he got home and finally saw his wife and kids again.

The trolley station had a pay phone. Not one that accepted coins. You paid the station attendant and got to use his phone. Simon called Mary Ellen and told her that he was on the very final leg of the trip back.

She said that she would let everyone at First Methodist know. And call the Nobilis and let Prudentia know that her mother was on her way.

He would really rather have gotten a good night's sleep before facing a reunion at First Methodist. He had been a minister for years, though. He realized that it wasn't feasible. He would say hello to everyone at church, eat a potluck dinner, and sleep later. Or, maybe, be too tired to sleep. Or, with better luck, not be too tired to sleep. He had really missed Mary Ellen.

Ron and Gerry left the hired horses they had ridden in on at the livery stable. They left most of the baggage there, too, in the lockup. Ron told the manager that he'd send a cart for it in the morning. The shouldered their backpacks and headed up the road to Lothlorien.

"Are you going to get a horse of your own now?" Gerry asked. "I won't need one, in Rudolstadt, and I can always take the train back and forth between school and home. But to get back and forth between the dye works and town, you might need one."

Ron shook his head. "I hadn't really thought about it. There's no hurry and I really don't like to ride, just for its own sake. It's really almost as fast to walk back and forth, and if I have things to carry, I can always hitch a ride on a delivery wagon if I remember to schedule my meetings right."

"Look, Minnie!" Denise yelled over the sound of the motors. "It's Gerry! He's back."

"Gerry?"

"Stone. Well, maybe you didn't know him. You didn't start school until the fall of '33 and you were over in the ESOL classes then. He left for Italy with his folks the next January. But it's impossible to miss him when you do see him. Carrot top. Freckles."

"Should I run over him for you?"

"No! He's almost the only boy who was ever nice to me, back in elementary school. Polite nice, I mean. He was one year behind me, before I got sick and lost a grade-had to do it over, I mean. Since then, we've been in the same class. And he stayed nice. Not trying to grope me after I got into middle school and started to develop. Sort of absentminded about it. I don't know whether he meant to be nice to me but, he's not a pain. And he knows more chemicals to play pranks with than the average person would ever dream of. Picked the right targets. Not afraid of a fight if someone tries to hassle him. He isn't afraid of guns, either, but he's not a very good shot. You can't have everything, though. I want to offer him a lift up to Lothlorien. You can haul the other guy."

Minnie considered the matter. She did recognize the Lothlorien name. The dyes; the medications. All she had heard about the old hippie man and his three sons.

She nodded. If Denise thought this Gerry counted as a friend, or even as "not a pain," she was willing to haul the other fellow along, whoever he was.

The other fellow, who turned out to be Gerry's brother Ron, didn't have the carrot top. He was just sort of there. Not at all in the category of, "impossible to miss him when you do see him." Nothing remarkable, nothing dashing, nothing piratical. As the hero of a ballad, Minnie thought, he would have been a total loss. He seemed to be polite nice, too, which was good in everyday life but didn't get a hero far in a ballad, either. She lost what little interest she might have had if he had been more like Denise's friend.

Pastor Ludwig Kastenmayer of St. Martin's in the Fields Lutheran Church was finding the conversation somewhat confusing.

But one point was clear. The youngest of the three sons of Herr Thomas Stone, the now-wealthy proprietor of the well known dye works, had chosen, with the consent of his father, to attend the Latin School in Rudolstadt rather than the high school in Grantville. He now, at the age of sixteen, wished Pastor Kastenmayer's assistance in being admitted in the midst of the current semester, with perhaps tutoring for some remedial work he would need to do to qualify.

While in Italy with his father and stepmother for the past nine months, he had devoted himself to private preparatory study under the guidance of two Roman Catholic priests, one of them a Jesuit.

In order to enter a Lutheran school? With the intention of further study at the university of Jena, also a Lutheran institution? Preparatory study which, apparently, the two priests had willingly provided to him?

"Actually, though," Gerry said, "they didn't know that I was going to study Lutheran theology. Because I didn't know it myself, until the very end."

Pastor Kastenmayer's little piece of the earth stopped shaking under his feet.

"You may change your mind yet, before you get that far," the other young man said. That was his older brother, Ron.

Gerry ignored him. "Not until after I shot Marius while Ducos and his people were trying to assassinate the pope. He was one of them. He had a gun. I was right in front of Marius. I shot him in the throat. Blood splattered everywhere. His head almost came off in my arms. I didn't really mean to do it, but I killed him. Marius wasn't normal. Not quite right in the head. He had a gun and he was dangerous, but mentally he wasn't all there. If I hadn't done it, he would have killed the pope. Yeah, I get that. He was a little simple minded, but he would have killed the pope. Now he's the one who's dead instead, and I'm the one who killed him. Did I say that his head almost came off in my arms? And I knew there was nothing I could ever do to make up for it. Until Magda explained that I didn't have to, because God already had. Atonement. It was the greatest thing I ever heard of."

Kastenmayer shook his head and fastened on one clear fact. "Magda?"

"Our stepmother," the older brother said. "She's the daughter of Herr Karl Juergen Edelman in Jena."

Kastenmayer knew Edelman. The small piece of firm ground under his feet expanded a bit.

"She'd already baptized us," the red haired boy was saying. "Right after she married Dad, when she found out that nobody ever had done it."

A third of them are heathen rang through Kastenmayer's brain. That's what Jonas had said about gathering converts from among the up-timers. A third of them are heathen.

"And she's Lutheran, so I guess that she meant to baptize us as Lutherans."

"A valid baptism is a valid baptism," Kastenmayer said firmly. "For any variant of Christianity, whether truth or heresy, orthodox or heterodox." Some points of doctrine might be in dispute among Germany's Lutherans, but he would have given that reply if total strangers had roused him from a sound sleep at three o'clock in the morning and demanded to know the answer.

"She used water. And she said, 'I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

"It was Magda," Ron said grumpily. "In the greenhouse. With the garden hose."

Pastor Kastenmayer, whose acquisition of knowledge about up-time culture had not yet reached the game of Clue, ignored him. "That would be quite sufficient. But I really should get it recorded in the church registers. When did this sacramental act take place?"

The two young men agreed that it had been the spring of 1632. That was before Kastenmayer had been appointed as first pastor of St. Martin's in the Fields. Before the parish had been established. He would have to get Rothmaler in Rudolstadt to enter the three baptisms into the registers there. He made a note.

"But after I killed Marius by accident and felt so awful about it, then she told me about all of the rest of it. She had this book with her. It's called Luther's Small Catechism."

"I've heard of it," Kastenmayer admitted.

"Through it, I have come to understand the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. To accept all that I owe to the overwhelming mercy of God. I am certain that I have a vocation to the ordained Lutheran ministry."

Kastenmayer stared at the boy's freckles. All of his efforts to obtain "payback" for the up-timer who had married his daughter Andrea by converting other up-timers to Lutheranism paled before this opportunity. This young up-timer, of wealthy family, coming to him. Voluntarily.

God was humbling him, he knew. Man proposes, God disposes.

The older of the two cleared his throat. "It's awfully early for Gerry to be making a final decision. Really, all that we're sure of is that he wants to go to school this winter in Rudolstadt instead of here. We thought that if, maybe, you could give him a letter of recommendation to the school there…"

"My mind is made up. All the way."

"Look, Gerry. You can't study to be a Lutheran preacher until, at least, you're a Lutheran. Magda said that herself. She could baptize you, but she couldn't confirm you. Theologically, you're still somewhere out in left field."

This was confusing. "Your father does not consent to theological study?"

"He didn't say no. He'll pay for it," the younger boy said. "Magda thinks it's a fine idea. And she said that I could get confirmed at the school."

"Many men do not make an immediate decision in regard to their life work," Kastenmayer said soothingly. "Consider Dean Gerhard at Jena. He completed two years of the university medical curriculum before committing himself to another path." He prudently did not add that the other path had led Gerhard to the deanship of the theological faculty, since that appeared to be a matter of some contention between the two brothers.

Kastenmayer had spoken, over the past decade and a half, with many decent young men, scarcely more than boys, who had been dragged as soldiers into these incessant wars. Some became brutes. Others could be redeemed, keeping their consciences in the face of the things they had done. This was familiar ground. "Come into my study. I'll prepare a letter to the rector in Rudolstadt for you." He paused. "While you ," he said to the other one, "may and will remain out here."

God had never promised him that things would be simple.

Ron was thinking much the same thing, in a more secular manner. Sometimes, since the events of last summer, his younger brother Gerry had seemed more alien to him than Mork from Ork. Before, he'd at least been able to understand adolescent testosterone overload. This religious kick…

After hearing Kastenmayer's summary that evening, Jonas Justinus Muselius chuckled and wrote to Pastor Johann Rothmaler in Rudolstadt, with an additional quick note to the rector of the Rudolstadt Latin School along the general lines of "we've got us a hot prospect here, so don't do anything to mess it up."

Some days were definitely better than others. Occasionally Jonas felt very tired and started to worry that he was the only person around Grantville who had really faced up to the challenge that assimilating these new immigrants from up-time was going to present for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt.

It would probably be even more difficult, in the long run, than absorbing the Austrian exiles into Bayreuth or the Bohemian exiles into Saxony had been, even though there were far fewer of them. What was the English word? Oh, yes. "Diverse." They were far more diverse.

He was so glad that Ronella Koch was already a Lutheran. Not that anyone of her status would ever be allowed to marry a crippled schoolteacher. But nevertheless, he was glad.

Ron heard motorcycles coming up behind him, which meant Denise and Minnie of course. Or probably. Not many motorcycles appeared on the road out to Lothlorien.

"Want a ride?"

"Sure. Thanks."

She pulled off her helmet.

Not…

The other girl also. Not Denise and Minnie. Pam Hardesty. Tina Logsden's half-sister. He'd been in class with Tina until he'd been accelerated. Then he came back and heard that she'd drowned at the graduation party last spring, while he was in Italy. And-of all people to be on a Harley!-Missy Jenkins. Chip's sister.

Ron hadn't seen much of Chip the last few years. He knew in theory that Chip had gotten involved in the Committees of Correspondence and done a bunch of stuff in Jena, but in Ron's mind he was still a high school jock. Enemy of the people, in so far as the people were geeks, nerds, and hippies-categories which included the three Stone brothers, in varying proportions.

Not to mention that the Stones had been a family of disreputable hippies and the Jenkins family was about as close as a West Virginia town like Grantville ever got to aristocracy.

"I'm stopping here, Missy," Pam said. "I've got a cramp in my leg that I need to walk off. Then I'll go back. I'll tell Christin that you went on up to Lothlorien, so she'll know about when to expect you."

"Why don't you wait for me here? I won't stop; just drop Ron off and do a turnaround. I'm scheduled to work evening shift."

Missy pulled her helmet back on. "You'll have to ride behind. Buster doesn't think we've gotten good enough to try balancing with the sidecars on yet."

"Not exactly where I would have expected to see you perched, Dumpling," Ron said.

"Call me that again and I'll put you back down on the ground." She was noticing, really noticing, that his arms were around her. Not doing anything improper; just there, holding on.

"All right. You haven't really deserved to be called 'Dumpling' since you were in sixth grade. Whatever you did that summer between sixth and seventh was a big improvement."

"It was called puberty and included a waistline." The same waistline, she thought, that he was holding onto. Not a particularly slender or dainty one, but functional for dividing her body into an upper half and a lower half. "Why don't these things come equipped with riding whips? Useful for putting impertinent people in their place and things like that."

"Why the motorcycle?"

"I figured it couldn't hurt to learn. Not since the Ring of Fire. We're having to stretch a lot, all of us, or there isn't going to be enough to go around. Horses don't speak to me. There aren't that many full-size cycles in town, but maybe some day I can get a dirt bike of my own. And anyway…"

"What?"

"It's the people who are trying to keep things exactly the way they used to be who are having most trouble getting along with the way things are now. And also…"

"Yeah?"

"Once I had my first ride, behind Denise, I had to. Talk about a rush!"

"Do you suppose they would give me lessons? I'm not that fond of horses either. It's more fun here on the pillion than it was in the sidecar with Minnie. Did you say that dirt bikes are for sale?"

"You have to keep your eyes peeled, but every now and then there's one available. Mickey Simmons sold Kevin's after he died in that horseback riding accident last spring. I didn't have the money to buy it, though. And it wasn't the kind of thing I could ask my parents for."

Chapter 19

Grantville

"I think, Nani, that before you repeat that story, you had better correct it."

Everyone at the Jenkins dinner table looked at Missy, who was looking at her maternal grandmother.

"I had it directly from someone who had it from someone who saw the whole thing," Vera Hudson said indignantly.

"Very few of someone's 'facts' are accurate."

Missy turned. "Gertrude, now pay attention, because they'll probably be repeating it at school, too." She looked back. "Nani, there's one pretty major problem with what that person thought he saw. Or she saw. Minnie and Denise didn't take the cycles out this afternoon. Pam and I did."

Vera opened her mouth, then closed it.

"That leads logically," Missy continued, "to the fact that Minnie did not pick up Ron Stone and give him a lift out to Lothlorien. This leads logically to the fact that when Ron got off the cycle and kissed the driver, the driver was not Minnie Hugelmair."

She paused. "That's how far your narrative got, Nani. Please note that the last fact that I just provided leads logically to the conclusion that Minnie is not a down-time Lolita and Ron Stone is not a dirty old man planning to commit statutory rape, which is, I think, the direction in which your narrative was tending."

"Mother," Debbie said. "Missy. Uh. Both of you."

Willie Ray said, "Vera."

"Nani, when you consider repeating that story, if you would run through it substituting 'Missy' for 'Minnie' as a kind of preliminary, it might sound a bit different to your ears. What I don't understand is how anyone could confuse the two of us. About the only thing we have in common, as far as looks are concerned, is light brown hair. Even then, hers is straight and mine is wavy."

"Maybe someone just assumed…" Debbie said, a bit lamely.

Missy laughed. "For informational purposes, Mother, Ron and I were born in the same month and I think that he's somewhere between one day and two weeks younger than I am. As the evidence upon which I base this conclusion, I would adduce the monthly birthday lists that graced the classrooms we shared between kindergarten and fourth grade, when our names always came up together and his always followed mine. Since I was born on the sixteenth of December, he must have arrived in the world somewhere between the seventeenth and the thirty-first."

"That's nicely pedantic," Chad said. "You may make a reference librarian yet. Would you care to share with us the sequence of events that gave rise to this, ah…" He spared a sly glance for his mother-in-law. "Misunderstanding."

"Pam and I like to use that road for practice runs. It's good for our level of experience. They've improved the surface to get things in and out of the dye works, but that's the only place it goes, so there isn't a lot of traffic."

So far, so good, thought Chad. At least his daughter had avoided using the word "motorcycle," which acted on Vera like a red flag on a bull.

"We caught up with Ron. I offered him a lift and Pam decided to go wait there. We were talking on the way up. It's the first time we had seen each other for, well, since they left last January. That's quite a while. I asked him if he had learned any suave Italian phrases while they were down there. He said that he'd picked up a lot of the profanity used by workers at the arsenal in Venice. Things like that. Just talking. Then when he got off, he said, ' Mille grazie, signorina, ' and performed a really flourishing bow. Then he took my hand and kissed it. That was followed by Nani's version of the significant event. I would like to point out that I was straddling the cycle, he was standing on the ground, and there was about six inches of clear air in between everything except our lips and the hand he was holding."

She took a deep breath. "We were also in full view of half of the employees of Lothlorien Farbenwerke, I think. It must have been break time or something, so you don't have to rely on Nani's informant as the sole eyewitness. Then I took Minnie's motorcycle back to the lot."

"Thank you," Chad said, thinking that she had used the word "motorcycle." Still, it was probably better to spend the rest of the meal listening to Vera on the topic of motorcycles than listening to Vera on the topic of Missy kissing Ron Stone.

"Plus, he'll be coming by in about fifteen or twenty minutes because we're going to the library this evening since I'm working tonight. The public library. Where your cousin Marietta can watch our every move."

"Oh." That, Chad thought, was definitely a curve ball. Or a slider.

"Not that one cousin or another doesn't watch every move I make in my life. I think I'll wait out on the porch."

Ron looked up the steps. Missy was sitting on the glider, wearing a sweatshirt and a glum expression on her face.

"I think," he said, "that we disturbed the cosmic rhythm this afternoon. Or the karmic balance. Or something that Dad believes in."

He climbed the steps, stopped with his hand on the banister, and looked at her again. He felt a little queasy. Up till now the girls he had seriously wanted to kiss had mostly been… pretty. Preferably gorgeous, but cute was the bottom cut-off and "pretty" covered most of them.

Missy Jenkins wasn't ugly. She wasn't even unattractive. She just wasn't… pretty.

Missy looked back at him. Ron Stone seemed more or less like he always had been. He was a little more adult-shaped than she remembered. Thicker in the chest. He didn't really look like a kid any more. But he was still himself. Straight hair, darkish blond. Medium. Medium height, width, face. Ordinary, except for the hazel eyes which proclaimed "brighter than your average bear." She knew that from being in school with him, anyway. So what had happened?

They had disturbed something, all right.

Her.

Missy didn't have anything against Ron, but she had sooooo not wanted to respond like that to a kiss from any guy in the world for another five years. Ten years. Until she got herself organized and had real life down pat.

"Yeah," she said. "Maybe."

"I figure it this way," Ron said. "We performed the deed that upset the equilibrium in front of my place. So we ought to be able to reverse the process if we kiss again in front of your house. That will put everything right back where it always was."

She looked around. "Interesting hypothesis. Nice persuasive tone of voice, too. You're talking to the daughter of a car salesman, though. If you think I'm going to add another chapter to Nani's story by standing here on the porch and kissing you again-rethink the program."

"Hmmn. We did it in the daylight, there, and it's still barely dusk. In order to achieve karmic balance, let's figure that the reverse process will work better if we do it in front of your house after dark. I'll accept the sidewalk if you have a quibble about the porch. Library now, kiss me again later."

In spite of herself, Missy laughed.

They weren't walking very fast. For one thing, the public library wasn't far from her house.

"What do you mean, you're studying to be a librarian?"

That really startled Ron. He'd figured that Missy had picked "library" as a place to spend what amounted to their first non-date on the theory that it was safe. Neutral. Noncommittal. A part-time job, since she had said she had to work.

Not that it was her own personal turf.

If it was, though, it sort of made sense. She was trying to put herself in charge of whatever was going on. Playing on the home field.

That kiss this afternoon had been weird.

"There weren't that many options when I graduated. Well, when you graduated, too. You knew that it was either the army or pharmaceuticals, though, and everyone knew that even Frank Jackson wanted you to work with your dad, like your brother Frank was doing-not waste the preparation you already had. What was there for me? I didn't want to join the army. Definitely not nursing or medicine. I didn't really want to devote my life to manufacturing steel or dealing with methanol or being a radio operator. Dad could use me as an assistant for his office work, but… So Mom stuck me into teacher training, which wasn't bad. And being an ESOL aide at the same time was fine. I'd had the experience, in a way, with Gertrude living with us. I did that until this spring. You were off in Venice with the embassy by then. That's when Marietta talked to me."

"Marietta?"

"Ms. Fielder to you."

"The Sherman tank of Grantville Public Library."

Missy gave him a sour look. "She's Dad's first cousin and what you've been undressing with your eyes is my version of the 'Newton body.' My half-sister Anne Jefferson got Mom's shape, with her father's height. Elegant. I got this. Before the Ring of Fire, Dad was headed in an expansive direction, too. Gran doesn't have it, herself. She's paper thin, like most of the Williamses were, but she passed it on to Dad and Chip and me. It's one of my annual New Year's resolutions-never to let myself blossom to the extent that Marietta and Great-aunt Elizabeth have. It's what I've inherited, but at least I'll keep it pared down. In order to do that, though, I have to exercise regularly. Which I do, even though it's boring. I'm actually in very good shape."

Ron eyed her again, from head to toe. He repeated the scan focusing on neck to knee. The sweatshirt was not a lot of help. "Way to go."

She gave him a shove and started to talk about data and information gathering. How important they were becoming to Grantville; the role of the different libraries and the research center. That her real apprenticeship, if that was what you wanted to call it, was out at the high school under Elaine Bolender, but that she spent time in every library inside the Ring of Fire, from the grade school to the power plant. That was the first year. By third year, she would need to be learning about down-time libraries. The University of Jena, for example. By then, there would be an exchange system set up, Elaine expected, sort of like the one the medical school would have between Leahy Medical Center here in Grantville and Jena. There were down-time librarians coming to Grantville fairly regularly now, especially to study cataloging.

By the time they got there, she had given him a virtual tour of how the configuration of the town's various libraries had changed while he was in Italy, with special attention to the way their resources, as they were being developed, would be of use to an enterprise like Tom Stone's.

In turn, Ron had taken her on the same kind of procession through what Lothlorien Farbenwerke was turning into under the management of Magda's father, which no longer bore much resemblance to a decrepit hippie commune. Aside from the manufacturing areas, which dwarfed the greenhouses, the original geodesic dome was now only an annex to a quite respectable house. The Stones hadn't wanted to get rid of the dome. Sentiment, Ron said.

Then they spent three hours talking to Marietta Fielder about cross-indexing and information retrieval systems, specifically as they applied to facilitation of pharmaceutical research.

Missy gave an extra special smile of thanks to the other student assistant on evening shift, who had ended up carrying a very heavy load of circulation and reference questions.

A monk in full habit? Ron shrugged to himself. Grantville sure wasn't what it had been when he and Missy were growing up. But if there had to be some guy working one-to-one with Missy on evening shift, Ron thought a monk was a really good choice. He smiled warmly also, trying to project a few thoughts at the guy while he did it. Thoughts about a really enthusiastic embrace of lifelong celibacy.

On the way home, they talked about what had happened in Venice and Rome during the so-called Galileo Affair. The CoC printing press and the Phillips screwdriver. Joe Buckley, murdered by the French Protestant fanatic, Michel Ducos-the same guy who'd almost engineered the Pope's assassination. Sharon Nichols and Feelthy Sanchez. Father Mazzare. Cardinal Mazzare, now.

Ron was pleased to discover that Missy had no sympathy for Billy Trumble. He'd been a year ahead of her in school and had once tried out the "lordly senior jock" approach. Ron found her frankly expressed wish that some day Trumble would make an even worse fool of himself satisfying. At some level, Ron was still holding a grudge against him in regard to the escape of Ducos.

Shortly thereafter, they tested the Stone Hypothesis. By then, on the way back from the library, they had refined the proposed procedural rules. In front of her house, on the sidewalk, in the dark, clasping the opposite hands to the ones they had been holding that afternoon, and, upon Ron's strong urging, without six inches of air separating them.

"I don't think that worked quite the way we intended," Ron said. "As far as restoring karmic balance and getting things back to the status quo ante, all I can say is that it was a real bummer. Otherwise, it was a great success."

"This is strange." Strange didn't even begin to cover it, Missy thought. Little impish electrons seemed to have taken up residence in both of her kneecaps and both of her hip sockets, from which locations they kept shooting sparks at one another. Diagonally.

"Yeah. It is, sort of."

"I wonder why we never kissed each other earlier? All those years going through middle school or high school together? Almost everyone kisses everyone else, somewhere along the line."

"The forces that manage Dad's beloved cosmic rhythm knew we weren't old enough to handle it? Maybe I ought to toss them a bit of incense for that."

Missy stood there thinking that she sooooo did not want this kind of complication in her life right now. Maybe never. Definitely not right now.

She hadn't really given a thought to religion since she got old enough to tell her mother that she wasn't going to Sunday School at First Methodist any more and made it stick. Her name was still on the rolls, she supposed, if only because she had never had any incentive to have it removed. But if Ron's cosmic forces existed and they had kept this from happening four or five years ago, she owed them. A lot.

"Give them an extra handful, while you're at it. Pat Bonnaro down at the gift shop still carries the stuff. I'll pay for my share."

PART FOUR

November 1634

Sublimed with mineral fury

Chapter 20

Magdeburg

"When you agreed to delay the national election, Prime Minister," said Francisco Nasi, "I think you played into Wilhelm Wettin's hands. We would have done better to insist on the earliest election possible."

Frank Jackson, sitting in another chair in Mike Stearns' office, nodded his head. "He's right, Mike. I told you at the time that coming right off our victory at Ahrensbok would be the best time to have the election. Instead, you gave Wettin months to start working on peoples' fears and insecurities again. Months, dammit. Now, Ahrensbok is half a year in the past. These days, that's not much different from a decade. Nobody remembers."

Being one of Mike's oldest and closest friends, Frank was blunter and cruder than Francisco would have been. But everything he said was true, in Nasi's opinion.

Stearns simply looked patient. Almost serene, even.

"And I told both of you at the time-I was right then, and I'm right now-that you were missing the forest for the trees. Sure, I know that a lot of people straddling the fence, and even some of Wettin's supporters, think I make a better war president that he will. Who knows? If I'd pushed it, and insisted on a quick election, we might even have won. Gotten a big enough plurality, anyway, and then we could have formed a coalition government with one or another of the smaller parties." Mike smiled thinly. "Now that would've been a barrel of laughs, wouldn't it? Spend half our waking hours squabbling over crossing t's and dotting i's."

Nasi couldn't help but wince. None of the small political parties in the USE was inclined in the least toward political practicality and they all viewed the term "compromise" as being a synonym for "treason."

That was one of the reasons they were small, of course.

He looked out the window. Since he wasn't sitting near it and the Prime Minister's office was in the palace's top floor, there was nothing to see but sky.

Gray sky. What you'd expect, of course, in November. That dull, sullen, somber month. The battle of Ahrensbok, where the USE army under Torstensson's command had won its great victory over the French, had taken place in May.

Bright, sunny, cheerful May. As Frank Jackson said, though, that might as well have been a decade in the past. In the six months since, Wilhelm Wettin and his Crown Loyalist party-coalition, rather; as a "party" the CLs were ramshackle-had spent every waking hour working on every fear and doubt and insecurity that any German might have concerning Mike Stearns and his Fourth of July Party-which was also a coalition, being honest, if not as ramshackle-and their supposed "radicalism."

Well. His actual radicalism, in the case of Stearns himself if not every member of his party. By the standards of the seventeenth century, certainly.

The end result…

Stearns said it aloud. "Look, guys, face it. We're going to lose the election. I've always known we would"-here he leaned forward in his chair and his tone hardened-"just as I knew at the time that winning the election by taking advantage of Ahrensbok would be a fool's paradise. Once the glow wore off, the fact is that the majority of people in the United States of Europe simply aren't ready-not yet-for my political program. And a politician who tries to obtain office for any reason other than carrying through his program is either a scoundrel or a fool. Often enough, both."

He leaned back in his seat and clasped his hands over his belly. It was a belly which was perhaps a bit larger than the one he'd carried into the office of Prime Minister a little over a year ago, but not much. Even with his incredibly heavy work load, Stearns always managed to exercise for at least a half hour each day.

"Here's what would have happened," he continued. "At best. We might have won, although we'd almost certainly not have won an outright majority. That means a government that can't rule very effectively. Then, squabbling and bickering all the while, we'd have tried to shove a program down the throats of a nation that really wasn't ready for it. Not enough of its people, at any rate. The result? Sooner or later, Wilhelm forces a vote of confidence, there's another election, and we're out and he's in anyway. Only, this time, after having discredited ourselves."

He unclasped his hands and sat up straight again. "No, gentlemen, there are times when taking the high road is not only the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do. So we lose an election. Big deal. In the meantime-swords have two edges, don't forget-we've been able to take advantage of this long election campaign to solidify our own political base and clarify our own political program. You both know as well as I do what the realities are in the seventeenth century, when it comes to political activity. Most people are farmers and they work like dogs nine months out of the year. They have very little time for politics, and when they do they just want to get something done, not sit around and jabber. That means that winter is the only time of year you can talk to most people about politics-not to mention listen to them-and really hammer out a solid program that your electorate understands. Politics is education, before it's anything else."

Frank Jackson's scowl had never left his face. By temperament, Jackson was simply not given to patient explanation and elucidation.

Nasi looked at the window again. Neither was he, really. But at least he could understand clearly what Stearns was saying.

And… the man might very well be right, after all. If there was one thing Francisco Nasi had learned very thoroughly in the many months since he'd become the head of USE intelligence and one of the Prime Minister's closest advisers, it was not to underestimate the political acumen and shrewdness of Mike Stearns. A "radical," the man might be-well, surely was-but he did not have trace of the airy impracticality of so many political radicals.

"I did not bring up the matter to thrash a dead horse, Michael," Francisco said mildly. "Whether you were right or not, we may never know. What we do know-can be almost certain about, anyway-is that come February 22nd the Crown Loyalists will win the election. On a national level. Not in every province, of course."

Frank shook his head. "Christ, that's not much more than two months from now."

"Well, that's the day the election happens," said Nasi, shrugging. "But in a country as big as the USE, and with the facilities we have available, it will take several weeks for the results to come in and be tabulated. We're not living in your old United States of America up-time where the winner of a national election was usually known by the following day. I don't expect a winner in our upcoming election to be definitely announced until mid-March. Then, given the realities of travel in the here and now, I can't see any realistic way the change in government can happen before June."

"True enough," said Mike. "Even in the late twentieth century, it took us two and a half months to go from a presidential election to inauguration day. When the republic was first founded, the time between election and inauguration was four months. We'll actually be doing quite well if we can inaugurate a new government less than four months after an election on February 22nd."

"How sure are you, Francisco?" asked Frank. "It's not as if we have the kind of polling capabilities that we Americans had up-time."

"No. But the methods and techniques we do have available are not so bad. Not when the results are going to be so lopsided."

"What's your estimate?" Mike asked.

"We will win no more than forty percent of the vote. Perhaps as little as one-third, although not any less. Wettin's party will win a majority. Not much of a majority-somewhere in the low fifty percentile range-but a clear majority. All the small parties put together will get somewhere between five and ten percent of the vote. Most of those votes, however, will be concentrated in a few provinces."

Mike simply nodded. "That's about what I figure, too, just using my own stick-my-thumb-in-the-wind hunches. How about our strongholds?"

"Well, that's the good news. The same strident campaign being waged by the Crown Loyalists that is stirring up fears and uncertainties in most of the provinces is having the opposite effect in regions where we are solidly rooted. It's just making our supporters angry."

Nasi glanced down at his notes. That was just ingrained reflex. By now, he could have recited all of that material in his sleep.

"The State of Thuringia-Franconia is solid as the proverbial rock. Whatever shakiness might have existed in Thuringia is being offset-more than offset-by the continuing political ramifications of the Ram Rebellion in Franconia."

"Ableidinger?" asked Mike, referring to the man generally considered to have been the Ram Rebellion's principal leader. Even its "mastermind," according to those hostilely inclined.

"He'll run for a seat in the USE Congress from the SoTF. There's not much doubt in my mind or anyone else's that he'll win by a landslide."

"About what I figured. And Magdeburg province is probably even more solid than the SoTF. It doesn't have as big a population, of course, but it's still one of the bigger provinces in the USE. So we'll have very solid bases in at least two of the major provinces. And three imperial cities, at least: Magdeburg itself, of course, along with Hamburg and Luebeck."

Jackson looked a bit skeptical. "Are you sure about Magdeburg? The city, I mean. Otto Gericke's the mayor, which means he'll be sitting in the Senate for it, thanks to these idiot rules we set up. He's always struck me as pretty stodgy."

"We didn't 'set up' those idiot rules, Frank," Mike said mildly. "We grudgingly agreed to them in the course of a three-way compromise between us and Wettin and the emperor- with the understanding that if we won the election one of the things we'd be pushing for was broadening the Senate and making it more democratic."

The USE's Senate was a peculiar institution, as things presently stood. Something of a cross between a "senate" as normally understood-by Americans, at any rate-and a House of Lords. Each province and imperial city got one seat in the Senate, but the seat had to be taken by whoever was that province or city's "head of state." That meant, for instance, that Ed Piazza sat in the national Senate by virtue of having been elected president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. But, of course, since most of the provincial heads of state in the USE were hereditary positions, that meant the Senate was a heavily aristocratic institution.

Just to add the icing to the cake-and the cherry-there was the charming twist that Gustav II Adolf, in addition to being the emperor of the United States of Europe, was also two of its senators. Two, not one. He was officially the heads of state of both Pomerania and Mecklenburg, having appointed himself the duke of both provinces when he conquered them.

"As for Otto," Mike continued, "in some ways, he is pretty stodgy. All other things being equal, he'd normally be more inclined toward the Crown Loyalists. But all thing are not equal, not even close. First and foremost, Otto's an architect and he positively adores this city, now that Gustav Adolf gave him free rein to build it up as he likes."

"So?"

Francisco and Mike chuckled simultaneously. "Hell, figure it out, Frank. Magdeburg was sacked less than five years ago. It was only rebuilt this quickly because of us. And who do you think Otto has the most confidence will keep it from being sacked again? Us-or that feckless pack of squabbling noblemen and guildmasters around Wilhelm Wettin? The same people who didn't do squat to protect the city last time around."

Mike swiveled his chair and hazed out the window. "Have you given any thought to your own situation, after the election, Francisco?"

"Yes, of course." Nasi hesitated, then chuckled. "Amazingly, though-I am hardly what you'd call indecisive, as a rule-I haven't been able to come to any conclusions."

Mike smiled, still looking out the window. "Hard to give it up, isn't it?"

"Excuse me?"

"Power. Influence." Stearns waggled his hand. "And-at least for people like you and me-I think what's probably even harder is giving up the game itself."

He swiveled his chair around. "Fortunately, however, the game itself is one thing the loser in an election does not have to concede. Keep in mind, though, that all this may be irrelevant in your case. Wilhelm may want to keep you on in your current position."

Francisco shook his head. "You don't really believe that. I certainly don't. And it doesn't matter, in any event. Even if Wettin offered to retain me in my current post, I would decline."

"Why?"

Nasi looked at Stearns squarely. "It is perhaps finally time to say this aloud. I have become quite loyal to you, Michael. Even to your political program, although most of my allegiance is personal. I would find it difficult-impossible, really-to serve Wilhelm Wettin in this same capacity. I don't dislike the man. I don't even distrust him, within limits. He's simply… not you."

Jackson grinned. "He has that effect on people, doesn't he?" He hooked a thumb at Stearns. "It's why I soldiered on as his secretary-treasurer after he got elected president of our mine local."

"Well, thanks," Mike said. "But you don't need to feel any obligation, Francisco."

Nasi laughed. " 'Obligation' is not really the word. The truth is, I enjoy working for you. First, because I've discovered that I am quite good at this work. Secondly, because I've eventually concluded- quite to my surprise-that I think the work itself is worth doing. No small leap of faith, that, I assure you. Not for a man like me, raised in the environs of the Ottoman court."

Mike smiled. "It must have been a switch, going from a prospective courtier in the Turkish empire to the spymaster of a rabble-rouser."

"Yes. On the other hand, it's a lot less dangerous."

Jackson looked startled. "Since when is being a rabble-rouser less dangerous than being part of the establishment?"

"When the establishment in question is that of Istanbul, a lot safer," said Nasi. "I hate to think what percentage of the sultan's advisers wind up at the bottom of the sea with a garrote around their neck. The odds of surviving are no better than our odds in the upcoming election-and no one expects us to actually lose our heads as a result."

"No-but it's not a possibility to overlook, either," said Mike. "In this day and age, politics is very much a contact sport. About the only difference here in the USE is that we wear gloves. It can still get very rough."

He sat erect and leaned over the desk, planting his hands in front of him. "Francisco, I think we need to give some consideration to your safety. After the election, I mean, when you're back to being a private citizen."

It was Nasi's turn to look startled. He hadn't really considered that matter, he realized.

"You've made enemies in your position," Mike continued. "And what's worse, some of them are not what you'd call casual enemies."

"Well… yes. But so have you, Michael." He nodded at Jackson. "Even Frank, for that matter."

Jackson snorted. "Big deal. I'm in the army. I've got soldiers around me every day. Very well armed soldiers. As for Mike…"

He snorted again. "First, as long as he stays in Magdeburg, he's got Gunther Achterhof's CoC people watching over him. You know what they're like."

Gunther Achterhof was perhaps the most ruthless of all the CoC leaders-which was saying something, in an organization that had Gretchen Richter as one of its leaders. He more or less ran the Committee of Correspondence in the USE's capital city, and he had what you might call "pro-active" notions when it came to security issues. That there were enemies spies in Magdeburg, no one doubted. What no one also doubted was that those spies worked very, very, very carefully-and stayed well away from any activities which the city's CoC might perceive as a direct threat to its people or those they supported.

Mike stirred in his chair. "I probably won't be staying in Magdeburg, though. I'm almost certain, by now, that once I lose the election Gustav Adolf is going to ask me to become a general in the army."

Frank shook his head. "That still seems just plain nuts to me. Meaning no offense, old buddy, but you've got as many qualifications to be an army general as I do to be a brain surgeon. Zip. You served exactly three years in the army, back up-time-as a grunt. That's it."

But Nasi agreed with Mike's estimate. "It doesn't matter, Frank. You even have the same tradition in your own history, if you go back far enough."

"Huh?"

Francisco still found it amazing how many Americans-even otherwise intelligent ones like Jackson, holding important positions-knew practically nothing even of their own nation's history. Much less the history of the rest of the world.

Mike provided the explanation. "In the twentieth century, generals in the American army were almost all professional soldiers. But if you go back to the Civil War, Frank, you'll find that Abe Lincoln appointed lots of civilians to generalships. In some cases, men with no military experience at all. The most famous is probably Ben Butler. He had a post as an officer in one of the state militias, but that didn't mean squat in military terms. He just got the post because he was a prominent politician. When the war started, Lincoln made him a major general in the U.S. Army."

"In God's name, why?"

Mike shrugged. "Pretty much the same reason that Gustav Adolf is going to offer me a position as general. Ben Butler was a very prominent Democrat, but one who stuck with the North when the South seceded. He supported Lincoln's prosecution of the war. So Lincoln made him a general."

"You could refuse," pointed out Nasi. "You even have a good excuse, since you'll be the leader of the opposition."

"It'd be stupid for me to do that. If we were in peacetime, yes. But we're going to be at war again next summer. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. Gustav Adolf is coldly furious with Saxony and Brandenburg and come hell or high water he's going to bring them to heel for their treachery in the Baltic War. They'll put up a fight and he'll overrun them."

For the first time, Mike's placid countenance became somber. "Mind you, if I thought I could persuade the emperor to leave it at that, I'd stay a civilian. But I don't. The Poles and the Austrians are bound to come in on the other side. In and of itself, that wouldn't be a problem. But Gustav Adolf thinks-and so do I-that he's going to hammer all of them on the battlefield. And that being so, unfortunately, I'm almost certain he's going to try to conquer Poland itself. Big chunks of it, anyway. And then all hell's going to break loose. A smallish and self-contained war-really, more in the way of suppressing a rebellion-is going to turn into an ongoing nightmare. Gustav Adolf is simply biting off more than he can chew, even if he won't accept the fact."

Jackson looked at Nasi. "You agree with him?"

"Oh, yes. On both counts. First, that the emperor will make the mistake of turning the war into a full-scale war with Poland. Second, that the Polish resistance will be ferocious." He made a face. "Unfortunately, the Poles are so feckless in their politics that people tend to forget what they're like on the battlefield. Especially when they have a Grand Hetman with the military skills of Stanislaw Koniecpolski."

Jackson looked back at Stearns. "All the more reason, that would seem to me, to stay the hell out of it."

Mike spread his hands. "I can't, Frank. Agree with the emperor or disagree with him, it doesn't matter. If I was just a private citizen, it'd be different. But I'm not. I'm trying to lead a revolution-all across Europe, not just here. Under the circumstances, if Gustav Adolf offers me a post as general in the army on the eve of a new major war for the USE and I refuse, I'll just marginalize myself politically. Besides…"

He paused, for a moment. "Being cold-blooded about it, I expect Wilhelm to screw up as the new Prime Minister. Screw up badly, in fact. On his own, he might not. But he's made too many promises and owes too many favors to too many people, many of whom are stone reactionaries and dumber than bricks. So I think there's likely to be some real political explosions after he takes office. Which, being blunt about it, is fine with me-especially if I'm not around where people can try to force me to play fireman."

"Oh." Frank pursed his lips. "To put it another way, you figure the CoCs are going to be running amok sooner or later, and you'd just as soon not be around when they do."

"Not… exactly. I want to be close enough-hopefully-to be able to guide the thing a bit. Turn an explosion into a shaped charge, you might say. But, yes, not so close that Gustav Adolf or anybody else can expect me to squelch anything right away." He leaned back, his complacent expression returning. "I figure a military camp somewhere on the Polish border is about right."

Frank shook his head. "God, you're a scheming bastard."

Mike smiled. "Speaking of which-to get back to the topic-even assuming I leave Magdeburg, I'll still have plenty of protection. And it won't just be 'well-armed soldiers' in the abstract. I'm quite sure I can get Gustav Adolf to let me bring all the Warders into the army with me, as… oh, we'll call them some sort of 'special unit,' just like we do with Harry Lefferts and his wrecking crew. But what they'll actually be is my bodyguards."

He swiveled the chair to face Nasi squarely. "None of which will apply to you, Francisco. Not if you leave Magdeburg, at any rate-which I imagine you'd like to be able to do, at least from time to time."

"Actually, I've been thinking of moving to Prague. Leaving the USE altogether."

"Why?" asked Frank.

"Various reasons. Some of them, purely personal." Francisco hesitated. But… these two men were good friends, in addition to everything else. "If nothing else, I am getting to the age where I need to get married. And where better to look for a wife than Prague? It has the largest Jewish community in Europe-probably the whole world-and, even better for me, its most cosmopolitan and sophisticated. Well, except for, in some ways, the Jewry of Istanbul. But I think the Ottoman Empire is now too dangerous for me."

"Okay, I can see that. You'll need a real bodyguard, then."

Nasi winced. "Please, Frank! The nature of my work-which I will certainly continue, even in Prague, even as a private citizen-does not lend itself well to having great hulking brutes shuffling along after me."

Mike laughed. "God, the Warders would love to hear that description of them!"

"Oh, I admit the Warders are different. But how many bodyguards of that caliber are available?"

"Warders, none," said Frank. "But I have somebody who'd probably suit you even better."

Nasi cocked an eye at him.

"Cory Joe Lang," said Jackson. "Know the fellow?"

"His name, yes. I don't believe I've ever met him, though. He's one of the military intelligence people attached to your… ah.. ."

"Special unit," supplied Frank, smiling. "Which means, among other things, that I can assign him to do pretty much anything, anywhere, for any length of time-and neither General Torstensson nor anyone else is going to ask me any questions or raise any objections."

Francisco thought about it. It was certainly true that having a man familiar with intelligence work as a bodyguard would solve some of the problems involved. On the other hand, "intelligence work" covered a lot of ground. For all practical purposes, most "spies" were really just clerks. In many cases, what the Americans would call "outright geeks." Hardly suitable for the possible ramifications of the job of being a bodyguard.

"Ah… that would leave the issue of this Cory Joe Lang's… ah…"

"Physical qualifications?" said Frank, grinning. "Don't worry about it."

Stearns was back to his very comfortable, slouched-back-in-his-chair, hands-clasped-over-his-belly posture. "Yeah," he said. "Really don't worry about it."

Francisco looked from one to the other. "What are you not telling me?"

"Let's put it this way. Harry Lefferts was known to say that the one man in or around Grantville he'd cross the street to avoid getting into a fight with was Cory Joe Lang. Not-he'd always add this, right off-that he and Cory Joe didn't get along just fine so it was all a moot point anyway."

"Ah." Nasi reviewed what he knew of the record of Harry Lefferts. Which was a great deal.

The very sanguinary record.

"Ah," he repeated. "Yes, that should work quite nicely."

Frank nodded. "I'll give him his new marching orders in a few days, when he comes back to Magdeburg. Right now, he's in Grantville."

The down-time lieutenant in the tavern was petrified. His face, literally, as pale as a sheet.

"Look, Cory Joe, I'm sorry. I didn't know-"

The man sitting across from him at the table in the Thuringen Gardens nodded. "Yeah, I understand. Different last names. My last name 'Lang' comes from my dad. 'Hardesty' is my mother's maiden name, and it's the one she goes by these days."

Lang raised one hand and, with the other, began counting off the fingers. As he did so-as surreptitiously as possible-the other three young officers at the table began sliding their chairs back. If Cory Joe's fury cut loose, they wanted to be as far as possible from the coming victim.

"I'll explain the family relationships involved, just so you're not confused any longer. I'm the oldest of Velma Hardesty's kids. Born on January 14, 1979, up-time calendar." The first finger was counted off.

All the more so because "fury" did not accurately describe the intelligence officer's likely behavior. There would be no insensate and unfocused explosion here. If ever there lived a man who exemplified the old American saw, don't get mad, get even, it was Cory Joe Lang. If he decided-and this seemed to be the direction things were going-to take Lt. Stammler's characterization of Velma Hardesty as a "whore" as a personal insult, then who could say how far he thought the insult extended? Perhaps the idiot Stammler's companions were guilty also.

"She was only married to my dad for a year or so, before she broke it off," Lang continued. "Lucky for him. Then she screwed around for a few years with God knows how many guys. My half-sister Pam-she goes by 'Pam Hardesty,' not having much choice in the matter-was one of the byproducts. She was born on May 11, 1982, and she's the one outright bastard in the family. Nobody actually knows for sure who her father was. Including Velma. Might have been any one of several guys."

The second finger was counted off. Throughout, Cory Joe's tone had remained as level and even as an iron bar. Lt. Stammler's face somehow managed to get paler still; his three fellows slid their chairs back just a little farther.

"Eventually, though, she got married again. To a logger-poor stupid fuck must have dropped one on his own head-by the name of Carney Logsden. That didn't last much longer than her marriage to my dad, but it did last long enough to produce my other two half-sisters, Tina and Susan."

Two more fingers were counted off, leaving only the thumb sticking up. It wasn't a particularly large thumb, as these things go. But Cory Joe Lang's reputation didn't stem from his size. He was perhaps a bit larger and more muscular than average, but not extraordinarily so. His reputation stemmed from the fact that nobody sitting at that table had any trouble at all envisioning that thumb gouging out an eye or two. Or four or five. Wolverines aren't particularly large, either.

"They both go-or went, in the case of Tina, since she's dead now-by the last name of 'Logsden.' That was probably true enough, in the case of Tina, but me and just about everybody else has their doubts whether it really applies to Susan. She's the youngest of Velma's kids-born on December 11, 1986, almost eight years younger'n me-and by then Velma was back to fucking everything in pants. 'Course, that probably started happening the day after Carney was dumb enough to marry her."

He lowered the hand. "The point, though, is this." That calm, level, even tone was quite frightening to anyone who knew the man. "It's fair enough to call my mother a slut or a tramp or a roundheels. But 'whore'? Well, that's pushing it. At least, I've never heard anybody claim my mother took money to screw. Gifts, presents, anything like that, sure. She's about as avaricious as they get. But I think 'whore' goes beyond the pale."

Lt. Stammler managed to choke out a few more words. "I apologize, Cory Joe. I didn't know -"

"Yeah, sure. I know you didn't realize I was her son when you called her a whore, right in front of me. But so what? I mean, I really think a man owes it to himself to be a bit more careful how he uses words. 'Less he wants to wind up a cripple, or dead before his time."

There was silence, for a moment. Then, Cory Joe leaned back in his seat a little. "Ah, hell, Fritz, you don't need to shit a brick. The truth is, I could care less personally. My dad raised me, not that worthless bitch. I've seen as little of my mother as I possibly could, my whole life. Happily for me, she returns the sentiment."

Stammler swallowed. It seemed he would live to see another dawn. Perhaps even intact.

Lang waved his hand. "It's my sisters. Okay, half-sisters. I don't see too much of them, but I like 'em. Nice girls. I always remember their birthdays, whatever else I screw up. And either one of them might get a little upset if they heard their mother casually referred to as a 'whore' in public by a drunk soldier-not that they'd really dispute the charge too strongly, anymore than I would-so I really feel obliged to discourage that sort of thing."

"Never do it again!"

There was silence, again, for a few seconds.

"Well, okay, then. We'll leave at that. But you'd better not forget."

"Never do it again."

Chapter 21

Grantville

"When I sent them to Grantville last spring, I had no intention that they would batten on you forever, Henry."

Veronica Dreeson was steaming with wrath. Truly with wrath, because during the months she had been gone, Henry's health had worsened noticeably. The trip back, even in the ATV, with its seats so much softer than a wagon, had been hard on him.

Why had he been so inconsiderate of himself as to make that trip to Fulda and Frankfurt? Why had he been so inconsiderate of her? Didn't he realize that she had already been a widow once? Once was enough. He should not have gone.

She should not have gone to Amberg. She should have remained in Grantville to care for him. She had accomplished nothing at all during that trip to the Upper Palatinate in any case. Except to provide him with one more burden.

Officially, therefore, she was wrathful this morning because after her late husband Johann Stephan's niece Dorothea and her lover Nicolas Moser had arrived here, Henry had not only performed a civil marriage ceremony for them, but had also found a job for Nicolas as a clerk with the SoTF court system. And, since the job was very junior and did not pay enough that they could rent their own apartment, had permitted them to live in one of the rooms of his house ever since.

"Now, Ronnie," he said mildly. "Dorothea has taken some of the burden off Annalise. It is her senior year in high school, after all. Dorothea is here when the other children leave, when they come home. She was a big help when Ed Piazza asked me to go over to Buchenland. I think I'd have said no if she and Nicholas hadn't been available to Annalise for backup."

That was the wrong thing to say. So it was really Nicol and Thea's fault that Henry had risked his health on that strenuous trip. "What does she do here?" Veronica asked suspiciously.

"Reads novels, mostly," Henry admitted. "When she isn't playing with Will and Joey. But don't blame Annalise. Thea already knew about Harlequin Romances when she arrived."

"I know." Veronica's sigh was disgusted.

"It makes the housekeeper feel better to have an adult member of the family present, whether she does anything at all." That, Henry thought, was perfectly true.

Possibly the best thing was that she had arrived home to find that the rest of the household appeared to be well and happy. It was the worst thing, too. They had gotten along fine without her. She was just a useless old woman.

"What is that book?" Veronica asked suspiciously.

Thea looked up, apprehensively. She knew perfectly well that her aunt, aunt-by-marriage, widow-of-her-father's-half-brother, was not pleased to have her in the house.

"It's called Where's Waldo. I found it in that chest under the bay window. Henry said that one of Margie's kids left it behind. Joey is really too young, but Will loves it." She clambered up from the floor to the sofa. "Sit next to me, Tante. See, in each of the pictures, there is a little monkey hidden."

Veronica didn't want to take the book away from Will and Joey. It took some time to locate another copy and quite a few USE dollars to buy it from Chandra Prickett, who said, "I guess, since you want to send it out of town, to Becky, for the baby, I'll sell it. I can always check it out of the library for my kids, since it doesn't look like we're going anywhere."

She did send the book to Becky.

In the same packet as a letter to Gretchen, who now claimed that her political obligations to the CoC and Mike Stearns required that she had to go campaigning for Fourth of July Party candidates between now and the February elections, instead of coming home to collect her many and varied offspring, natural and adopted.

A rather tart letter, headed with the words:

Where's Gretchen?

She slipped her hand into the pocket tied under her skirt. It held the disintegrating remains of a makeshift rosary, constructed of a piece of Bavarian grapevine and with snips of hollowed-out twigs for the beads. Perhaps the summer had not been entirely wasted, after all. She had learned a lot about this "guilt tripping" from Mary Ward and Archduchess Maria Anna. She couldn't do it quite as deftly as they did, yet, and the technique was hard to combine with her Abbess of Quedlinburg face, but perhaps she could alternate.

"Good to see you back, Ronnie."

"Good morning, Enoch. Is Idelette here? I have a package for her that Leopold sent from Rheinfelden, and a letter from Marc. Probably telling her how crazy he is about that little seamstress, Susanna."

"Actually, she's over at St. Veronica's with your girl. Catching up the bookkeeping. Come in and sit down for a spell. Inez is just making coffee."

"The bookkeeping's in good shape. I was surprised. I suppose I owe her something for the work…"

"No, no. Consider it part of her apprenticeship. Leopold sent her to Grantville to learn how to run a business. Helping Annalise is part of that. Aura Lee Hudson and Carol Koch-she's gone back to using Carol Unruh as her professional name, I guess you'd call it-are mentoring them, I guess you'd say. It's working out pretty well."

"Hummph." Ronnie snorted. "Everyone knows that children will pay more attention to outsiders than to their own families. That's one of the reasons we apprentice them in the first place."

Inez nodded. "It's not just what they're learning. It's the willingness. That's what my mother used to say. 'You'll always get a lot more help around the house from a hired girl than you will from your own daughter. And the woman who hires your daughter will get a lot more help from her than from any of her own.' "

"But there's still a lot that Annalise has to learn. The trip to Amberg was a complete waste. At least, from all I can figure out so far. Well, we're getting the books that Annalise negotiated for. That's something, I suppose."

"You can't bring yourself to say it, but you're as pleased by the way Annalise managed the schools while you were gone as you've ever been by anything in your life."

"I suppose."

Inez poured a little milk into her coffee. "You ought to tell her so. She worked really hard."

"Ronnie doesn't want to give her the big head."

"Enoch! Don't encourage Ronnie to hold it all in. Annalise deserves a pat on the back. She's earned it."

"What she deserves is to go to college," said Ronnie firmly. "But I don't see how. The Jesuits are paying a little rent for the site in Amberg where the print shop used to be, and the normal school a little more, but it has to be split five ways, since Johann Stephan's girls in Nurnberg have a right to their shares. A fifth of it isn't going to pay Annalise's tuition at Quedlinburg, or even come close to it. Brechbuhl hasn't managed to break the Grafenwohr property out of probate yet. By the time he does, it will be too late for Annalise. I can predict that right now."

After Inez saw her out, she came back laughing. "That was a really classic Veronica grump."

Enoch nodded. "She's got a point, though."

"As far as Grantville is concerned," Henry Dreeson said, "Jarvis Beasley's wife is not a bigamist. Judge Tito will explain."

Maurice Tito, not speaking from the bench but rather acting as a consultant, explained in painstaking detail that the law of West Virginia, as brought from up-time and still fully applicable within Grantville itself and West Virginia County as a whole, did not consider a betrothal to be a binding contract that prohibited the fiance or fiancee from entering into marriage with a different person. He had a lot of citations to precedents.

The delegate who represented Saxony in the former House of Lords of the New United States and current Senate of the State of Thuringia-Franconia (in right of Saxony's status as co-administrator of the territories of the extinct county of Henneberg south of the Thuringerwald), pointed out in equal detail that under the law which prevailed there, a betrothal was indeed a binding contract. He seemed almost regretful. Nonetheless, in a case in which a young woman had entered into a betrothal, and her fiance subsequently went to be a soldier and disappeared, she could not remarry until such time as the marriage court declared a presumption of death or dissolved the betrothal. He stated that it was rare for a presumption of death to be granted less than seven years after the person's disappearance, and then only if the surviving partner to the contract could document a good faith effort to locate the other. Occasionally, indeed, such decrees had been issued after as little as three years, if there appeared to be good reason to assume death. On the other hand, there was no requirement that it be issued at all. It could take ten years, a dozen, or never be issued, particularly if there was some evidence that the partner who left was living elsewhere.

In that event, of course, the abandoned partner could re-petition to have the betrothal dissolved upon the ground of desertion.

The fact remained, however, that Hedwig Altschulerin, the daughter of a man who prior to his death had been a subject of Duke John George of Saxony, had not even sought a dissolution of her prior betrothal. She merely, upon meeting this soldier named Jarvis Beasley while she was working in Meiningen, had left that city. She had accompanied him to Grantville, had married him there, and currently was residing with him there. Wherefore she was, in the eyes of the laws of Saxony, a bigamist.

Saxony, he pointed out, administered the Henneberg village of her birth under a valid inheritance agreement, which was why it had a seat in the House of Lords. Consequently she was properly subject to Saxon law. He respectfully requested her extradition to appear before the Saxon Ehegericht in the Henneberg territories to answer for her transgression.

Mayor Dreeson equally respectfully refused.

The session adjourned. The Saxon delegate left a lot of paperwork for someone to file.

Maurice Tito strongly, if privately and informally, advised Hedwig Altschulerin, aka Hedy, now wife of Jarvis Beasley, that if she knew what was good for her, she would stay inside West Virginia County for the foreseeable future. Which meant no shopping trips in Rudolstadt. No fairs in Badenburg, although, at least, Grantville had a wonderful fair of its own.

Hedy nodded. Jarvis had taken her to it last fall.

Tito kept going. And, unfortunately, no going to church at either St. Martin's in the Fields or St. Thomas the Apostle, since both, while in the State of Thuringia-Franconia, were part of the County of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. While he certainly didn't think that Count Ludwig Guenther and his consistory would be likely to approve her extradition to Saxony, neither could he guarantee that they would refuse.

Hedy nodded unhappily. She was causing Jarvis a lot of trouble. Maybe more than she was worth.

And she wanted to go to church. Hedy liked to go to church. Where she grew up, church was the most interesting thing that happened all week.

"I think," Maurice Tito said after she and Jarvis left, "that we really ought to do something. At a minimum, the law should be the same all the way across the State of Thuringia-Franconia. But congress hasn't gotten around to passing matrimonial legislation, so for the time being, we're stuck with what we have. Saxony will appeal to the Supreme Court, of course, so it'll land in Chuck Riddle's lap, eventually.

"There's no point in waiting for congress to get off its ass. It has too much else on its plate. Much less the USE Parliament, considering everything that's going on in Magdeburg. See if you can get the Bureau of Consular Affairs to look into this. Let's start some kind of an initiative. We can't have people stuck here in Grantville, after all, unable to put their noses across the border, because of things like this. There ought to be some kind of reciprocal agreement."

"Full faith and credit." Tito nodded. "But we'll have to be careful. "It might be a trap we could fall into, if we had to give full faith and credit to Saxony's laws about betrothals when our own citizens apply for marriage licenses. In any case, it's a statewide or nationwide problem, not just a Grantville problem."

Henry Dreeson nodded. "I'll ask Ed Piazza about it, anyway. I'll check with Chad Jenkins, too. Now that his brother Wes has come back and taken over consular affairs, it seems to me that he'd be the person to head up the project, but I don't want to do anything that might step on Chad's toes-not with the campaign coming up."

Mary Ellen Jones decided that she'd better go over and talk to Simon. She had her office in the rectory; he had his in the church.

Wes Jenkins, on the theory that his marriage to Clara had been, at best, a civil ceremony, had requested a church wedding. If he just wanted a church blessing, that would be one thing. But he wanted the whole thing. Having, perhaps, a few private doubts of his own about the do-it-yourself version.

Now that she had slept on it… Private. An utterly private ceremony to salve Wes' conscience would be best. Considering Clara's possible-probable-pregnancy, which Simon really didn't need to know about yet either, the Methodist church certainly shouldn't do anything that would throw any doubt on legal validity of what the two of them had done while they were in Freiherr von Schlitz's lockup.

She and Simon wouldn't have to involve anybody but the principals and the witnesses. Simon could perform the ceremony. She'd be the first witness, since she already knew about it. Jenny Maddox could issue the license, be the second witness, and file the certificate herself. Keep it out of the list published in the papers.

There would be no cause for gossip. None. As far as the rest of Grantville would ever know or need to know, Wes and Clara were properly married in Fulda last August.

Chapter 22

Frankfurt am Main

"I was having a drink with Ernie Haggerty," said Bryant Holloway.

"You're drinking way too much. Ever since you got here."

"What business is it of yours, Nathan the Prick?"

Nathan Prickett had not liked that nickname when he was in high school and he still didn't like it.

"The places where Haggerty spends his time aren't on anybody's five-star list."

"That's what he's here for. Waters dresses up, plays 'gentleman publisher who hasn't forgotten his days as a front-line reporter,' and hobnobs with all the best people in Frankfurt. Ernie gets the dirt on low-lifes who hang out in low places."

"Look, Bryant."

"Don't 'Look, Bryant' me. Don't fucking 'Listen, Bryant' me, either. I don't know why the hell I'm staying with you, anyway."

"Because you're too cheap to pay for your own room. I know damned well that the fire department is paying you a per diem that's calculated to cover rent. Rent you're not paying, which is why you can afford to drink so much."

"It doesn't affect me. I've never missed a training session." Bryant Holloway banged his fist down on the table. "Have I?"

Reluctantly, Nathan shook his head. Bryant had never missed a training session. No matter how obnoxious he could be, he worked hard. The Frankfurt fire watch hadn't made any complaints about him. Not a single one.

"He's an up-timer."

"I heard him, though," Gui Ancelin said. "He was in a tavern with another up-timer. The one who works for Waters. Muttering against Dreeson."

"A plant," Locquifier said. "A would-be spy."

"I don't think so. Not after his sixth cider. Not beer. Cider, and he really drank them all. I'm not that simple-minded, Guillaume, not to watch out for such things. It's not as if he had come here Zum Weissen Schwan to drop his hints and innuendoes under our noses. That would be suspicious. They were in a dingy little tavern in Sachsenhausen. I've only been there once before, myself. By the time he left, he smelled like Robert's grandfather's orchard during pressing season."

"I don't understand," Ouvrard said. "Why would he be complaining about Dreeson? The man is long gone from Frankfurt."

"His resentment was not against Dreeson, only. He also dislikes Prickett, the arms merchant from Suhl, even though he is staying at Prickett's house. He was complaining even more against Jenkins, the former administrator in Fulda. Who is also gone from Fulda, now. Even more against Jenkins' daughter. It appears that he is married to one of Jenkins' daughters. She isn't as deferential to him as a wife should be. Or so he thinks."

"Who knows how 'deferential' may be defined by the up-timers. Does she refuse to arise and greet him at the door when he returns home? Does she refuse to look up from the book she is reading and smile at him when he enters the room? Does she go around in public with her forearms bare?"

Ancelin managed not to grin. Fortunat Deneau had domestic problems of his own with Jeanne, back in La Rochelle. "I still think that we should approach him. Tentatively, at least."

Locquifier shook his head. "Don't approach him. Not now. Not yet." He paused. "But do watch him. If he continues to be a discontented man, a man with grievances… We can file the information away. He isn't someone we could take into our confidence, but the day may come when we can find a use for him."

Brillard usually didn't talk. Just listened. But… "Not Gui. Not any of us. We shouldn't watch him ourselves. We're foreigners. Not Germans. Just five men. Even some slattern of a waitress might notice if one of us shows up too often and tell it to someone else who'll tell it to a watchman. They're nervous after last month. Weitz managed to elude last month's militia dragnet. Get him to keep an eye on this Holloway. His connections are mostly with the kind of people who normally spend their leisure time sitting in cheap taverns and grousing about something. They'll look right at home."

"I don't want to get a reputation for being seen in low taverns," Joachim Sandrart protested.

Soubise waved one hand airily. "Ah, but you are an artist. A painter who has been in Italy and spent time in the artists' quarter of the city of Rome itself. Nude models. Carousing during carnival. All that. The sister of some rival for your hand is certain to have told your little Johanna about it already. It hasn't caused her to throw a glove in your face so far."

" 'All that' was a long way from here. Before I knew I would have a chance to marry the daughter of a wealthy banker. It could just be 'out of sight, out of mind' for her. What you're asking me to do is right here and right in front of her. Or in front of people who will tell other people who will make it their business to be sure she knows about it. I don't want the Milkaus to get any idea that I'm… unstable."

Soubise narrowed his eyes. "I want to include some paintings of low tavern types in my collection."

"What?"

"They're becoming very popular in the Netherlands, you know. As odd as it may seem. I suppose they are seen as a fresh, modern alternative to all those classical gods floating around on pink clouds. Men in everyday working clothes. Card players. Smokers so poor they have to share a pipe. The painters still get to include some very impressive atmospheric effects. Tobacco smoke is as effective as clouds, if you catch it right. Your earliest training, under the Soreaus in Hanau, was in still life painting, so you can do it, easily enough. Reflections in the glass of cheap goblets on the table. Chipped earthenware, with little bubbles in the cheap glaze. Wood grain, old and weathered, if the table is bare. Wrinkles in the linen, if there is a cloth."

Soubise leaned back. "I'll tell Milkau, myself, that I have commissioned you to do such a series and intend to display it prominently." He smiled. "That will account nicely for as many low taverns as you find it necessary to visit."

"Yes, Your Grace."

"I do intend to receive the paintings, you know." Soubise stood up. "Make sketches while you are listening. Talk to my steward about costs and delivery schedules."

"Holloway's hooking up with some pretty nasty types, Jason. I think maybe you ought to clue Nathan Prickett in."

Jason Waters grinned. "Nasty types by my standards or nasty types by your standards? Don't forget I'm a newspaper reporter."

Ernie Haggerty grinned back. "Both. But the second variety is the one you need to worry about. Not just rough characters. Any town that has a main highway going through it and a river port is going to have plenty of those. Not just stevedores and roustabouts and freighters. A half dozen or so of Vincenz Weitz's cronies, to start with."

"Weitz? I don't think I know the name."

Ernie shook his head. "Too much time in high society, man. Last month-the ghetto thing?"

The newspaper reporter came sharply to attention.

"The militia had enough companies to march on just so many taverns without splitting them up, so that's how many they marched on. It doesn't mean they marched on every single place that guys sit and mutter about Jews and Nasi and Becky Stearns and stuff. They missed some. This Weitz, I think, might be the biggest fish they missed."

Dear Don Francisco,

Nathan paused a minute, trying to decide which piece of information he had would be more important to the don.

A man has recently arrived in Frankfurt who might be doing something important here. His name is William Curtius and he is staying with Benjamin de Rohan-they call him Soubise, not Rohan-who is a brother of the duke of Rohan. He, the brother that is, could be a duke himself. I'm not sure how these things work with noble titles, but I've at least figured out that it isn't like England. All four of those Saxe-Weimar brothers are dukes. Or were, until the oldest one stopped duking it out and ran for the House of Commons. So Rohan's brother could be a duke, too.

Anyway, Benjamin de Rohan has rented a town house and Curtius is staying with him. He's maybe thirty-five years old, or so. Curtius, that is (Rohan's about fifty, I'd say). He went to college in Germany for several years and speaks the language like a native. Jason Waters found out from a newspaper guy he's met here that Curtius studied at a place called Herborn and his professor was named Johann Heinrich Alstedt. Alstedt is still alive. Curtius is a diplomat, or wants to be, at least. He's angling for a job with Gustavus Adolphus, so you might want to keep an eye on him. Maybe warn Nils Brahe down in Mainz, since he's the one doing the hiring for Gustav around here. Well, the hiring for Mr. Oxenstierna, I suppose. The emperor probably doesn't spend his time reading resumes.

He stopped a minute. The nib on the damned quill was going blunt. He pulled out his pocket knife. Now he understood why some of the old people used to call them pen knives.

As soon as he got his new paycheck, he was going to buy one of the new pens. Not a fountain pen-he couldn't afford that. But the other day, over at Neumann's, he'd seen Merga using one of the new steel-nibbed dipping pens, which looked to be a mile and a half more practical.

Not to mention that they had plain stems and you wouldn't have to feel foolish watching a feather wiggle while you wrote. The stupid quill always made him feel like he was an illustration in a book about Benjamin Franklin or something. He'd had to do a report about Benjamin Franklin, back in sixth grade.

Like they'd say in Star Wars, I have a really bad feeling about what Bryant Holloway is getting up to. Even though he's from Grantville and is married to my wife's sister Lenore and is staying with me here while he's doing training exercises with the Frankfurt fire department.

The report on Holloway took up all the rest of the piece of paper. Right at the bottom, he squeezed in:

I'm sending this to you by Martin Wackernagel, the courier. If you have any more questions, ask him. His brother-in-law is a printer here in town and knows a lot of the people involved, including a lot of the Jews.

With all best wishes,

Nathan Prickett

Joachim Sandrart wasn't on corresponding terms with Don Francisco Nasi-not that he wouldn't have liked to be. So, in addition to reporting to Soubise, he sent a letter to Ron Stone. The son of such a prominent merchant house was bound to have contacts in the intelligence community.

Sandrart had every intention of cultivating his connection to the Stones, now that he had established it. The Rohan commissions were good, true-very, very good. But an artist in search of patronage should never put all his eggs in one basket. Ron's father undoubtedly had the most important quality that any potential patron could possess.

Money. Lots and lots of money.

Chapter 23

Magdeburg

Francisco Nasi found Cory Joe Lang, his new assistant and bodyguard, to be a more interesting fellow than he'd expected.

First impressions, admittedly, had not been promising. Being fair, though, that was mostly because of Cory Joe's improbably blonde hair, which he emphasized by keeping very long and usually tied back in a pony tail.

When Francisco commented on the matter to Jackson, the American general smiled.

"Yeah, I know. He looks like a faggot hair-dresser who uses more peroxide than Marilyn Monroe. More muscular than most, but that's about it. Don't let appearances deceive you, though. The hair color's real-you should see his half-sister Pam Hardesty, if you want an even more outlandish head of genuine blonde hair. And, like Pam, he's a lot smarter than he looks."

Jackson shook his head. "It's always amazed people, the way Velma Hardesty-who's about the most worthless tramp who ever infested Marion County-managed to produce such good kids. Even Tina, the one who got drowned at a graduation celebration party, wasn't any worse than reckless. And what teenager isn't?"

Nasi hated to ask for translations, because doing so always made him feel mildly foolish. Unfortunately, where his boss Mike Stearns was almost preternaturally acute when it came to such things and always provided Francisco with internal cues, Frank Jackson was obtuse.

Faggot? Peroxide? Marilyn Monroe? The term "tramp" seemed clear enough, but Francisco went ahead and asked anyway. Since he was already making a fool of himself.

At the moment, Cory Joe was sitting in a small chair at the very back of the conference room in the palace, looked bored and half-asleep. In point of fact, Francisco had already learned, Lang had a phenomenal memory and would be able to recite back all of the important details of this meeting, if asked.

"-about the way it looks," concluded Mike Stearns. "As you can see, Wettin's not making any attempt to sugarcoat anything."

Ed Piazza and Melissa Mailey had come up to Magdeburg for this meeting. They'd brought Chad Jenkins with them, too, since he'd be running for Rebecca's vacated seat, as well as Constantin Ableidinger.

Piazza had his lips pursed, contemplating Mike's summary. Ableidinger's face was expressionless. Jenkins was scowling. Melissa was shaking her head.

"Stupid," she pronounced. "Why is he doing this, do you think?"

Ed snorted. "They want to win the election? Look, Melissa, you might think and I might think-everybody in this room might think-that the platform of Wilhelm and his Crown Loyalists is stupid, but don't kid yourself. It's also very popular, in most places in Germany."

"With the upper crust," Frank Jackson qualified. "I doubt if people farther down the food chain are that crazy about it."

By up-time standards, Jackson shouldn't have been attending the meeting, since it was a purely partisan political affair and he was an actively serving general in the USE army. But cultural influences worked both ways. By seventeenth century standards and customs, it would be ridiculous not to include Jackson in a strategy session like this one. Frank had been one of Mike Stearns' closest friends and advisers since before the Ring of Fire, and still was.

Piazza shrugged. "Sure-and so what? Most provinces in Germany are still firmly under the thumbs of their upper classes."

Mike Stearns waggled his hand. "That's putting it too strongly, Ed. Much too strongly, in most places. 'Under their thumb,' yes. 'Firmly under their thumb?' Not really. The truth is, I think the only major provinces in the USE whose established rulers have a solid hold on their populations are Brunswick and Hesse-Kassel. In the case of Brunswick, because the new oil revenues allow the duke to finance lots of popular projects. And in the case of Hesse-Kassel, because William V-not to mention his wife Amalie-is unusually smart for a provincial ruler. And unusually moderate. Odd as it may be, the Landgrave and Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel are the left wing of the Crown Loyalists."

"Insofar as the term 'left wing' applies in the seventeenth century," Chad Jenkins said stiffly.

Mike and Melissa grinned. Back up-time, before the Ring of Fire, you couldn't have found the terms "Chad Jenkins" and "left wing" in the same room. But whether the man was comfortable with the fact or not, in the year 1634 in central Europe, Chad Jenkins was a flaming radical. Even Grantville's most reactionary prominent individual, Tino Nobili-a man who'd been regularly described as "to the right of Genghis Khan"-was, in most ways, a "left-winger" in the here and now. At least, with regard to strictly political matters if not theological ones.

Luckily, Jenkins had a sense of humor. After a moment, he chuckled and leaned back in his chair. "Okay, okay, old habits die hard. I guess I might as well resign myself to the fact that I'm part of this revolutionary cabal."

Now it was Melissa's turn to get a little stiff. "It's hardly a 'cabal,' Chad. Most of us here are, after all, elected officials."

"So?" His grin was more in the way of a jeer. "And since when did being an of-fi-cial cut any mustard with you, Melissa? I can remember at least one speech you gave, back during the miners' strike, when you referred to the entire U.S. government as a conspiracy on the part of the rich and mighty to downtrod the masses."

" 'Downtrod' is not a verb, and I'm sure I didn't use it that way," Melissa said primly. "I know. I'm a schoolteacher. Other than that…" She returned the jeering grin with a cool smile. "Fine. Touche. "

"If the two of you will quit squabbling over terminology," Ed said mildly, "I'd like to return to the subject. My point was that in most provinces in the USE, most people will let the upper crust determine how they vote. And for the nobility and the town gentry, the Crown Loyalist platform pushes all the right buttons. Especially the two big ones."

He stuck up his thumb. "First, of course, they want to re-establish a state church. On a national level, not simply a provincial level."

"They have not much choice," said Constantin Ableidinger, "if they want an established church. Most of the CL leaders are Lutherans, and the few who aren't are Calvinists. They know perfectly well that if they let each province determine its own established church, some of them-certainly the SoTF and Magdeburg-would flat refuse. And if they forced the issue, Thuringia and Franconia would probably decide to split the difference and let Franconia choose Catholicism."

Melissa shook her head. "It's insane! The problem isn't simply Lutheran versus Calvinist versus Catholic. Even if they get their damn established Lutheran church, then what? There are two major factions among the Lutherans, the Philippists and the Flacians. There's no way the same pig-headed idiots who insist on a state church aren't also going to insist that it has to have the right theology. And there we are, back in the soup. Philippists and Flacians squabbling all over Germany, with everybody else-Calvinists, Catholics, Anabaptists, Jews, everybody else-out in the cold."

"The emperor and Wettin himself will lean heavily in favor of the Philippists," said Ed. "Which means the Flacians will go berserk. What a mess."

"Not to mention the Committees of Correspondence," said Chad. "Speaking of 'going berserk.' Setting up an established church will have the same effect on them as waving a red flag in front of bull."

Mike seemed a little exasperated. "Unfortunately, I'm afraid you're right."

Chad looked at him quizzically. "I thought you were dead set against established churches yourself."

"In theory, yes. In practice… it depends how it's done. Back in the universe we came from, several advanced industrial nations still had established churches, formally speaking. But if the English or the Danes were groaning under theological tyranny, somehow it slipped our attention."

Melissa frowned. "Well, yeah, but… Mike, it took centuries for that to evolve."

"I understand that-which is exactly why I advocate a complete separation of church and state. I'm just saying that I wouldn't lose much sleep if we wound up having to settle for a compromise. As long as non-established churches aren't persecuted, I can live with an established church." He leaned forward in his chair. "For sure and certain, better than I could live with what the Crown Loyalists propose to do with the other central political issue in the campaign. The question of citizenship."

Ed nodded. "Yes, that's really the big one."

"Can somebody explain this one to me?" asked Chad. "I have a grasp of the issue-sort of-but it's still fuzzy around the edges. We don't seem to have to deal with this problem much in our neck of the woods."

Ableidinger grinned. "That's because, between you Americans and we Ram folk, the issue got pretty well settled in practice in Thuringia and Franconia."

"It's not much of an issue in Magdeburg province either," said Gunther Achterhof. His grin was a lot thinner than Ableidinger's. "And it won't be, no matter who wins the election."

"The essence of the matter is this, Charles," said Rebecca. "In the world you came from-I speak of your old United States of America-being a 'citizen' of the nation was quite straightforward. If you were born in America, or became a naturalized citizen, that was the end of it. You were a citizen, pure and simple."

Chad nodded. "Pretty much. A lot of states had a provision to take away your citizenship-your right to vote, I should say-if you got convicted of a felony. But, other than that, yes."

"Here in the Germanies, on the other hand, it is far more complicated. To begin with, there is nothing equivalent to national citizenship. Insofar as 'citizenship' in concerned, it is a local matter. A man may reside and work in a given city or province, and yet not be a citizen. In practice, that means that he doesn't not enjoy a great number of protections-residency rights, for instance-nor is he entitled to charity or other support."

"Most Germans in the here and now," Mike interrupted, "are not really citizens of anything. They are 'German' in terms of language, custom, what have you. But they are not 'German' in any meaningful political sense of the term. And, if the Crown Loyalists have their way, that won't change in the future."

"I still don't get it," said Chad. "They have the right to vote in the coming national election. So how can they not be 'citizens'?"

Becky smiled. "Being a 'voter' and a 'citizen' are not the same thing. It's far more complicated. Let's take a lower class man-an apprentice carpenter, let's say-in… oh, Hamburg, for example. He can vote in the coming election for whichever candidate he wants for his House of Commons district. But that's it. He cannot vote for any of the officials of the city itself. That's because Hamburg is one of the dozen or so free imperial cities in the United States of Europe. For most purposes, it is a province of its own-of which he is not a citizen. He has no rights in Hamburg, not even residency rights. He is there on sufferance, essentially."

Jenkins scratched his head. "It's sort of like Jim Crow, then?"

Mike made a face. "Well… there are differences. But, yes, it's a lot closer than we'd like. In some ways, in fact, it's even worse. At least black people in the Jim Crow south had the theoretical right to vote, even if exercising the vote was stifled in practice. Here, though, a lot of people in Germany won't even theoretically be citizens, if the Crown Loyalists get their whole program enacted."

"Will they be able to?" asked Chad.

Ed shrugged. "Hell, you knows? Ask that question again after the election. It'll depend how many seats they wind up winning in the House of Commons. They'll completely dominate the Chamber of Princes, of course."

"Ed's fudging," said Mike. "This question of citizenship is the one big issue on which all the small parties are in solid agreement with the CLs. There are other issues-an established church, for instance, since some of the small parties are heavily Calvinist-that I think we might be able to block. But unless we win an outright majority in the Commons, which none of us expects to happen, then Wettin and his CLs will get that citizenship legislation passed."

"At which point," said Gunther Achterhof, "all hell breaks loose."

He didn't say that threateningly, or even with a scowl. Just… matter-of-factly.

Chad Jenkins looked alarmed. "Hey, Gunther, we have to obey the law here."

Achterhof gave him a calm, level look. " 'Obey the law' has very little to do with it, Mr. Jenkins. Once that legislation is enacted, then the informal freedoms and rights that many lower class persons all across the Germanies have come to expect while he"-he nodded toward Mike-"was Prime Minister, will start vanishing. Be assured that every petty nobleman and town council and guildmaster in the USE will immediately take advantage of the situation to reimpose their authority and restrict the rights of the lower classes as much as possible. And nowadays, several years after the Ring of Fire-you may be assured of this also- that will trigger off an explosion."

For all that Achterhof's depiction had the air of a neutral observation by an unbiased observer, Francisco Nasi knew perfectly well that when the time came Gunther-certainly Gretchen Richter-and every Committee of Correspondence in the Germanies would be leading the protests.

Protests? It might very well come down to an outright rebellion. Nasi knew that Mike Stearns didn't think there was any realistic prospect of avoiding violence. Mike's concern, at the moment, was simply to find ways to channel the upcoming explosion in the hopes that it might produce some positive results instead of simply a bloodbath.

Easier said than done, of course. Gunther Achterhof was quite right in his analysis. Even the short time Mike Stearns had wielded power in the USE as Prime Minister had been enough to produce a revolution of rising expectations in Germany's lower classes. Many if not all of them would find a return to the old dispensation intolerable.

And what made the whole situation so utterly perilous-looking at it now from the standpoint of the upper crust, whom Nasi thought were outright imbeciles-was…

Stearns said it bluntly.

"You may as well swallow the whole thing, Chad, whether you like it or not. The kicker in all this is that the factor that most ruling classes in history rely on to impose their will on the population is the army. And in the United States of Europe in the year 1635, that army will be leaning heavily in favor of us-not the establishment."

Jenkins was looking even more alarmed. "Jesus, Mike! You can't seriously be proposing a mutiny!"

"Oh, cut it out, Chad," interrupted Frank Jackson brusquely. "We're not living any longer in a nice, polite, well-ordered and comfortable political situation where political parties make 'propositions' and everybody waits patiently to see who wins the vote." He jerked a thumb toward Mike. "It doesn't matter whether he advocates or proposes a mutiny. I guarantee you that if the Crown Loyalists order the regular army-just to give an example-to march into Magdeburg and suppress a demonstration-hell, even an outright armed rebellion-the regiments will flat refuse. And if Wettin's government tries to force the issue, the soldiers will start shooting at him instead."

Jenkins stared at him. Francisco cleared his throat. "General Jackson's assessment is almost certainly correct, Mr. Jenkins. I know for a fact that General Torstensson is deeply concerned over the matter and has warned the emperor several times that Wettin's recklessness-"

"The Crown Loyalists' recklessness, really," Mike interrupted. "I don't think, left to his own devices, Wilhelm would be pushing the issue this hard."

Nasi nodded his agreement and continued. "Torstensson has warned Gustav Adolf that he can't rely on the army for suppression of internal dissent. Not the regular USE army, at least. And if the emperor or anyone else tries to use other units, either Swedish troops or mercenary forces, it's quite possible that would trigger off a rebellion on the part of the regular army."

"Jesus." Chad shook his head, as if clearing away confusion. "I didn't realize things were that tense." He gave Ed Piazza and Constantin Ableidinger a sly smile. "I guess, down there in the SoTF, I've gotten used to the way these two firebrands keep everything under control."

"And will keep things under control," Ed said, smiling just as slyly. "Not even the most rabid Crown Loyalist proposes the imposition of any sort of national citizenship requirement. The whole matter will be left to each province to decide for itself-and for us in Thuringia-Franconia, it's a done deal. Nothing will change, so far as citizenship is concerned."

Jenkins looked back at Nasi. "And what did Gustav Adolf say? In response to Torstensson's warning?"

Nasi's smile was serene. "You understand, of course, that I am not officially privy to any private conversations between the emperor and the top commander of the USE's armed forces."

"Yeah, sure. Butter doesn't melt in your mouth and all that. What'd he say?"

"Alas, our esteemed emperor is far too pre-occupied at the moment with foreign affairs to pay sufficient attention to domestic matters. So his responses have been terse-being honest-to the point of vacuity. The gist of his attitude seems to be that it will all prove to be a moot point, since by the time the Crown Loyalists are able to enact their citizenship legislation, Gustav Adolf and Lennart Torstensson and the entire USE regular army will be somewhere in Brandenburg or Saxony-perhaps even Poland-dealing mighty blows to the unrighteous cohorts of the wicked."

Jenkins stared at him. "That… seems a little foolhardy."

Mike snorted. "A 'little'? Here's the truth, Chad. Gustav Adolf is just too absorbed-hell, call it 'obsessed' and you won't be far off-settling accounts with the French and the Danes and chomping at the bit to pile onto the Saxons and Brandenburgers next year to be thinking much at all about the domestic situation in the USE. So it apparently hasn't dawned on him yet that if any sort of major rebellions break out while the regular army in fighting in the east, then the various provincial forces in the USE will be hard-pressed to squash them."

"Yeah," said Frank. "Squash them with what? They can't use Swedish forces without the emperor's permission-and even if he was inclined to give it, he'll have all those forces with him fighting the war anyway. So that means they have to use provincial troops and city militias. And while that might have been good enough a few years back, it ain't now. Just to name one example, nobody much doubts that if a civil war breaks out again in Hamburg that it'll be won hands-down by the city's CoC. For that matter, the same's likely to be true in five out of the USE's seven imperial cities, because the CoC is also strong in Luebeck, Frankfurt and Strassburg. The only 'moderate' imperial cities are Augsburg and Ulm."

"There are two provinces where the same's true, also," added Mike. "The Upper Palatinate and Mecklenburg."

"Hesse-Kassel's provincial forces are quite substantial," Nasi said. "But Hesse-Kassel won't see any major upheavals anyway-and there's very little chance that the landgrave would agree to send his troops to the aid of the establishment in any other province."

Ed Piazza cleared his throat. "Especially after I send him a stiff note, as president of the SoTF, explaining that if Hesse-Kassel starts sending its troops into other provinces, Thuringia-Franconia will start doing the same. On the other side."

Now, Jenkins was really looking alarmed. "For Christ's sake, Ed! The SoTF's so-called 'provincial troops' don't amount to squat. They're just small garrisons-a police force more than anything else."

"Sure-and so what? If the situation goes to hell in a handbasket, we'll call for volunteers. We'll get 'em, don't think we won't. The CoCs are strong in Thuringia and-"

Ableidinger chimed in. "And the Ram will call for volunteers in Franconia. They'll come, too."

Piazza shrugged. "Push comes to shove, the State of Thuringia-Franconia has the largest population of any province in the USE and we've got a far better industrial base than any other except-in some industries-Magdeburg. And Magdeburg will be doing the same thing anyway."

Jenkins was looking a little haggard, now. "Jesus H. Christ."

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," said Mike. "But we've wandered into speculation here, people. I think we need to get back to the nuts and bolts of the coming campaign. That's starting immediately, where this other-if it happens at all-is months down the road."

After the meeting was over and everyone had left the conference room except Stearns, Nasi and Lang, Mike turned to Francisco.

"The one thing we really don't want is any kind of premature confrontation with the Crown Loyalists. I don't know whether it'll come to a civil war of sorts next summer or fall, but what I know for sure is that if it does I want all our ducks lined up in a row, not scattered all over East Jesus because they got disorganized during some second-rate squabble in the spring."

Nasi nodded. "Yes, I understand."

"So. Are there any flash points you can see? If there are, I'd like to make sure they're squelched ahead of time."

"Outside of the usual problems…" Francisco turned to look at Lang. "There is the matter of whatever those Huguenot fanatics may be up to. The ones around Michel Ducos-his followers, I should say. We don't know the current whereabouts of Ducos. Cory Joe?"

Lang's sleepy look didn't quite vanish. But he certainly didn't look as alert as his ensuing words indicated him to be. "The don asked me to pull all that information together, Mike. So far, though, it's pretty ragged. Bits and pieces from Nathan Prickett in Frankfurt, which is where they've had a cell for a few months. And a few odds and ends from elsewhere."

"What does it all add up to?"

"Hard to say," replied Nasi. "The problem is that whatever the Huguenots are involved with here in the USE does not directly involve us. Or, it might be better to say, we are simply a means to an end. Their real target is Cardinal Richelieu."

"And why is that a problem-for us?"

"Because it makes it hard to predict exactly what they might do here. Since their aim is on Richelieu, they might do something that makes sense in a French political context but makes no sense at all from our standpoint."

"I'm not quite following you."

Cory Joe spoke up. "Here's an example, Mike. From the latest items we've gotten, it seems as if the Huguenots in Frankfurt may be getting involved with some of our own anti-Semitic groups. Yet there doesn't seem to be any logical reason for that. As fanatical as they may be, Ducos' Huguenots are not anti-Semitic themselves. Actually, that's part of the fanaticism, in a way, since they're extreme Calvinist predestinationists, if that's a real word."

Mike chuckled. "I don't think so, but I get the point. If there are Jews in the world it's because God wants them here and who the hell are you to question His judgment?"

Nasi shook his head. "Of course, one might wonder why the same principle doesn't apply to their political concerns. If Cardinal Richelieu is running France it's because God wants him to and who are you to question His judgment?"

"And it's still more complicated," Cory Joe added, "because it seems that we might be dealing with two different Huguenot outfits, not just Ducos and his people."

Mike cocked an eye. "And the other being…"

"Duke Henri de Rohan," said Nasi. "Probably France's most prominent Huguenot political figure. Now residing in Besancon, it seems. And the duke's younger brother Benjamin, the duke of Soubise."

"And to make things still more complicated," said Cory Joe, "we're beginning to suspect that some of the agents on the ground are working for both parties. If so, obviously, one of those parties is getting suckered by a double-agent. But we have no idea which one is which or who's suckering who."

Mike shook his head much the way Chad Jenkins had earlier, as if clearing away confusion. "Boy, I'm glad it's the two of you trying to keep track of this spaghetti instead of me." He scratched his chin for a minute. "All right, I think I get at least as much of the picture as there is to get right now. If so, it sounds as if things have developed enough that maybe Cory Joe should start going down to Grantville on a regular basis. Francisco, you don't really need his services as a bodyguard so long as you're residing in Magdeburg."

"No, I don't. As for the other"-here he smiled, very coolly-"I believe that expression you're overfond of applies here."

Mike chuckled. " 'Don't teach your grandmother how to suck eggs.'

"

"Yes, that one. We've already set up the premises, with Frank Jackson's co-operation. Cory Joe's heading down to Grantville the day after tomorrow."

For the first time, Cory Joe seemed to come wide awake. "You got any messages you want me to pass on to anybody, Mike? Like, y'know, to your favorite cousin my mother."

Mike made a face. Cory Joe laughed. "Just as well, since I woulda refused anyway. I haven't seen the worthless bitch in months and I'd just as soon keep the streak going." His hard face softened a little. "It'll be nice to see my sisters again, though."

Chapter 24

Grantville

"Well, if you want an honest answer…" Count Ludwig Guenther of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt raised his eyebrows.

"I very definitely do," said Tony Adducci.

"I don't think Duke Albrecht wanted to run against Piazza for president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. At all. So don't hold it against him once the election is over. I know that he's William Wettin's brother, but he's really not a political type. He's perfectly happy, really, managing their property-finding new leaseholders and trying to bring it back into maximum production. But once someone among the Crown Loyalists noticed that there's no prohibition in the SoTF constitution against a nobleman running for president-which would have been governor, up-time, if I understand what I have read concerning the structure of your government."

Adducci started to cuss a blue streak, which finally dwindled into, "Hell, it's like John and Bobby Kennedy, more than anything else, I guess. Brother act."

Mary Kat Riddle shook her head. "I wish Ms. Mailey was here. Or Mr. Piazza. But I'll do what I can to sort it out for you all." She pushed her hair behind her ears, a little nervously.

"Let's start at the beginning. William Wettin isn't 'running for prime minister.' That's not the way it works in a parliamentary system. Wettin's running for the lower house of the USE parliament from the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-which is now actually one of the counties in the SoTF, just like we are."

She looked at Count Ludwig Guenther's wife Emelie, who was going to have a baby… just any minute now, it looked like. She was due this month. They'd gotten to be friends. "Or you are, in Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt."

"Okay."

"If the Crown Loyalists win a majority of the seats in the USE House of Commons in this election, they'll pick Wettin to be prime minister. Or, technically, send his name to the emperor, who will have to agree, pretty much, the way things are set up now. Gustav won't just be able to appoint someone, right out of the blue, the way he did with Mike last year. There's an actual system in place."

Count Ludwig Guenther nodded his approval.

Mary Kat looked back at Tony. "Let me back up a bit. Since Wettin is a commoner now, Duke Ernst is away working for Gustav, and Duke Bernhard is a loose cannon, Duke Albrecht has been representing Saxe-Weimar in the SoTF House of Lords."

Tony nodded. "Okay."

"The USE doesn't have a House of Lords, exactly, even though its parliament is designed on the British model. In the CPE, its upper house used to be called the Chamber of Princes. We carried over the title but added the provision that if the head of state or a province was an elected or appointed official, then that official represented the province in the Chamber of Princes." She smiled. "That's why our very own unassuming Ed Piazza will wind up being not just the SoTF president, but also the SoTF 'prince' in the Chamber of Princes."

"I don't like this mixing the executive and legislative branches together," Joe Stull muttered. "We learned about checks and balances in civics. There's supposed to be three branches of government and they're supposed to be separate."

"We all know, Joe," Tony said. "We've heard your opinion before. My wife says that Montesquieu would be proud of you."

"Who?"

Mary Kat looked at Count Ludwig Guenther, got a cue, and went on. "The reason Wettin's a commoner is that when they wrote the USE constitution, they put in a requirement that the prime minister had to be from the lower house-the House of Commons, not the Chamber of Princes. So he abdicated."

She sighed, pushing her hair back again.

Count Ludwig Guenther smiled. "Do you have a problem?"

"I honestly don't understand this one, myself. I mean, we'd already 'slid' Saxe-Weimar out from under him. He wasn't a ruling prince any more. Being a duke was just a kind of personal title-not political, any more. If they'd had the constitution written up then. .." She frowned. "I hadn't thought of this before, but Mike was the president of the NUS then. He'd have been serving in the Chamber of Princes then, just like Ed is now."

"Yes." Count Ludwig Guenther rather enjoyed watching the young up-time lawyer think.

"But Gustavus Adolphus just sort of arbitrarily appointed Mike the prime minister of the new USE, before they got the new constitution written. Ed succeeded him as president. Oh. This is baaaaad! Once he was president, since they weren't able to have elections, then Ed appointed Mike to the House of Commons from one voting district in Thuringia, making him eligible to be prime minister under the new constitution. Sort of ex post facto."

She looked at the count again. "Believe me, for the USA in the twentieth century, and ever since the American constitution was adopted, ex post facto was forbidden. Bad stuff. No ex post facto laws. But what else could Ed have done?"

He nodded. "I am familiar with the platitude that hard cases make bad law."

"Okay. But things were really crazy those few weeks right after the Battle of Wismar, so they had to do something sort of… retroactive… to fix the situation. Also, because Mike and Wettin had made a sort of gentlemen's agreement, Ed appointed Wettin to the House of Commons from another voting district in Thuringia. And… stuff happened."

"Scads of bad stuff," Joe Stull muttered. "I know all about it. It was all over West Virginia, up-time, like slime. Horace Bolender and his cronies down-time, too. 'One hand washes the other.' "

"Okay." Mary Kat looked around the room. "This is what I really don't understand. Only about a dozen people were eligible to serve in the Chamber of Princes back then. Two of those were Gustavus Adolphus being the Duke of Mecklenburg and Gustavus Adolphus being the Duke of Pomerania. Brunswick. Hesse-Kassel. Ed. The governor of Magdeburg Province, who's elected, like Ed.

"Now, since, the Congress of Copenhagen, there are several more, and a bunch of them are the provincial administrators that Gustavus Adolphus appointed-his own guys in Westphalia, Upper Rhine, and Mainz. There will be another appointed member of the upper house from Swabia once things settle down there, but it doesn't look like that will happen in time for this election. Those appointed administrators may or may not get elected as the heads of those provinces in this election. I'm not even sure if Gustavus is planning to throw them open for election this time around."

Nobody else had anything to contribute on that issue, so after a pause, Mary Kat continued.

"But, since Copenhagen, there actually already are more elected members of the upper house-the mayors of the new expanded imperial city-provinces like Hamburg and Frankfurt am Main. But none of those elected members can ever be prime minister, any more than Ed can, because the constitution says that the prime minister has to come from the House of Commons, the lower house."

"Your analysis is admirably succinct," Count Ludwig Guenther said. "And correct."

"I never really thought about this before." Mary Kat looked at the count. "Where does this leave, uh, guys like you? Nobles who hang onto their titles but aren't princes? You don't get to be in the Chamber of Princes and you don't get to be in the House of Commons."

"If they are my age? They may resign themselves to exerting local political influence only, at the level of the provinces. Or they may accept appointive positions in the USE executive branch, as Wilhelm of Hesse-Kassel's brother Hermann has done."

Mary Kat nodded. "He's Secretary of State. And Wettin's brother, Duke Ernst, is regent in the Upper Palatinate."

"If they are younger? Why, in my opinion, they should think of abdicating their titles, so they can enter the House of Commons." Count Ludwig Guenther smiled wryly. "That, I believe, was in large part the point of it all."

Joe Stull shook his head. "Sure does make a man understand the proverb about not watching anyone make laws or sausages. But you're off on a tangent. Way out in left field. Can we get back to Duke Albrecht of Saxe-Weimar running against Ed Piazza?"

Mary Kat checked where she was on the outline she had brought to the meeting. At least they'd warned her a couple of days ahead of time that they wanted a briefing. She wasn't coming in cold.

"Way back when we-well, not me as a part of 'we' because I sure wasn't on the committee-but when the constitutional subcommittee of the Emergency Committee drew up the NUS constitution, back in 1631, Grantville wasn't setting up a parliament. Our constitution sets up a congress. It's turned into a state legislature for all practical purposes, now that we're a province of the USE, but we're still calling it 'congress' and it's still organized pretty much the same. With a 'house and senate' structure, except-"

"How many 'excepts' are there going to be?" Joe asked.

"A lot. If you'll just let me finish what I'm saying now…" Mary Kat sighed. "Sorry, Joe. I'm getting frazzled."

"I'm frazzling you. Sorry, go ahead. I'll keep my mouth shut."

"In the deal that Mike and Gustavus Adolphus made after the Croat Raid in 1632, Gustavus Adolphus, back when he was the Captain General and not the emperor yet, made Mike agree that the NUS had to have a House of Lords. Except not like the English House of Lords, where guys got to come just because they had titles. That would never have worked, because the German noble houses don't use primogeniture."

Joe broke his promise and opened his mouth. "What the hell's that?"

"Oldest son takes it all. That's too simple, but not-too-simple would take all night to explain. In England, just the one guy was noble. In the Germanies, all the sons and daughters are noble. We'd have ended up looking like Poland or someplace if we'd let them all into the NUS House of Lords. So the House of Lords that Ms. Mailey-it was her, really-designed was more like the Chamber of Princes. Not every noble in the NUS had a seat in it. If the place being represented had a ruling count or duke or something, he was automatically in it."

She waved across the room. "Like Count Ludwig Guenther for Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt when it joined the NUS, or Margrave Christian of Bayreuth, now, after the Ram Rebellion. But for Grantville, and Badenburg, and other places without lords that joined the NUS, the person elected to the House of Lords could be a commoner and was called a senator. Like Becky. Didn't have to be a noble. Plus, nobles who weren't rulers didn't have a seat in the House of Lords. Just the ones who used to be in the Reichstag."

"Okay," Tony Adducci said.

Joe Stull shook his head. "Not okay by me. I'm getting a headache already."

Mary Kat stood up. "And, now, here's the point, so pay attention, Joe. Sort of the reverse, and it's never been amended-just got carried over to the SoTF without change. The constitution that the Emergency Committee drafted didn't say that the president of the NUS had to be a commoner. Just a citizen."

Tony brought his chair forward so hard that the front legs skidded on the hardwood floor of Chad Jenkins' living room. "Oh, God. Why not?"

Chad Jenkins shrugged. "Because it damned well didn't occur to the constitutional subcommittee. We were flying by the seat of our pants, back then, all of us. It just didn't occur to anybody to put in a requirement that the president had to be a commoner."

Missy Jenkins frowned. "Not even to Ms. Mailey?"

Her father shook his head. "Nope. Who dreamed, back then, that any noble was ever going to want to run for president of the NUS?"

Tony's next contribution was, "Flying, fucking, triple-damn."

Mary Kat looked at Countess Emelie a little apologetically. "So. Duke Albrecht's got a grandfathered seat in the SoTF House of Lords. He doesn't have to run for that. Then the Crown Loyalists figured out that he can run for president against Ed, too. Without resigning from the House of Lords, unless he gets elected."

Count Ludwig Guenther nodded. "Which he doesn't have a prayer of doing. The Piazza-Ableidinger ticket is going to win the SoTF in a landslide and the Crown Loyalists know it. Which is why they aren't wasting a viable candidate running against Ed Piazza."

Missy giggled. "Or against Dad, for Becky's seat."

"I am sure," Count Ludwig Guenther said a little sententiously, "that they seriously regret having nominated Marcus von Drachhausen just two weeks before he was arrested for attempted rape. Not to mention the subsequent charges brought against him in the Bolender scandal. They've been playing catch-up ever since, trying to find someone with the sheer gall to accept a belated special nomination."

Joe Stull reached for another beer. "I really can't say that I wish them luck."

In the carriage on the way back to Rudolstadt, Count Ludwig Guenther looked at his wife a little anxiously. "Do you think I should have made my point more forcefully, dear? I meant my statement that I don't think Duke Albrecht wants to run against Piazza for president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. At all. I am honestly afraid that many of the up-timers are likely to hold it against him personally once the election is over. That will make things much more difficult in the House of Lords, and possibly spill over into the SoTF's ability to influence measures in the USE parliament. Because of the relationship with Wettin. While it's true enough that Albrecht isn't a viable candidate in his own right, his name on the ballot will help with name recognition for Wettin."

Emelie leaned her head against his shoulder. "Why on earth would they hold it against him?"

"Because so many of them, in their hearts, have contempt for the art of government. The art of politics that is, in its essence, compromise. The ability to see that the other side may also have a point. They want a world that comes in black and white; absolute good or absolute evil. They find multiple shades of gray frustrating.

"It is, I think, one of the reasons that I am able, and Gustavus Adolphus, for that matter, is able, to work with Stearns. He, very refreshingly, came to us as an experienced negotiator. In the odd environment of these 'unions,' to be sure, but still with what amounts to extensive experience in diplomacy. He realizes that after the negotiations are over, life must continue. That it is the attitude of 'either we smash them utterly or they will smash us utterly' that drew the Germanies into this disastrous war."

His voice trailed off. "Not to mention the Lutheran theological negotiations of last spring."

Emelie shifted her head, so she could look up. "You mean Stearns understands that a victory, to be secure, must lead to a peace that both sides can bear."

"Precisely. That it is unwise to demonize the other side. Except, of course, in those rare cases when the other side is utterly demonic. But Albrecht of Saxe-Weimar is by no means a demon. Not even an enemy of the Fourth of July Party. Merely, for the duration of this campaign, an opponent."

"But if Prime Minister Stearns understands all this…?"

"There is no way that Stearns can be omnipresent, my dear. He is now an actor on the national-even the international-stage. But we must somehow make sure that the scenes being acted in our provincial theater… I am far from sure how to phrase this."

"Remain in harmony with the overall theme of the larger play?"

"Excellent, dearest. Excellent."

"I think the carriage is coming to a halt. We are home."

The count nodded absentmindedly. "I must speak with Piazza. He also, of course, understands negotiations. School boards. Parent-teacher associations. Such a plethora of training grounds for an aspiring participant in the 'great game.' It's a pity that so many of them were politically apathetic."

Emelie smiled as the footman handed her down from the coach. "The 'great game.' Kipling. I have read Kipling, too."

Chapter 25

Grantville

Pam Hardesty looked at the newspaper. Blinked, and looked again.

That's what it said, all right. Under the column headed MARRIAGES:

MAUGER, Laurent, of Haarlem, Netherlands, and HARDESTY, Velma, of Grantville, at City Hall.

The groom wore a scarlet satin suit with a lace collar and black patent leather boots. The bride wore a lavender vinyl wrap dress and matching backless, toeless high-heeled slip-on sandals. They exchanged rings. Official witnesses were Jacques-Pierre Dumais, formerly of La Rochelle, now of Grantville, and Veda Mae Haggerty, of Grantville. The groom is a wine merchant well-known as a frequent visitor to our town. The bride was most recently employed as a waitress at the 250 Club.

"Goddam her," she hissed, half under her breath. It would be just like her mother Velma to get re-married without even bothering to mention it to her own children.

Pam grabbed the telephone. There was no way to reach her half-brother Cory Joe Lang quickly, but she could at least reach her half-sister Susan Logsden. That was more important anyway, since Susan was still a teenager.

"Grandpa Ben," she wailed. "Have you seen the Times? Page three, column four. I'm at work, so I'm going to check in Principal Saluzzo's office for her class schedule, find Susan, and tell her before some spiteful little bitch does. In the meanest way possible, of course. High school is the pits. You and Grandma Gloria better come, too. Yeah, I know it's too far for her to walk. Take the trolley; everybody else does."

"I could scarcely believe she wore that dress. And talk about a pair of slut shoes." Veda Mae swallowed the last of her spinach pudding.

Jacques-Pierre had scarcely been able to believe the dress at all. Much less that anyone would wear it. However, who was he to question Madame Hardesty's sartorial preferences? They had served their purposes-and, more to the point, his purposes. The happy couple had already departed for the Netherlands. With even the slightest amount of luck, he would never be obliged to speak with Velma Hardesty again.

"Mauger seemed to have a favorable enough view of her choice."

"How would he know what's good taste or not? Satin and lace on a man. I remember those clothes people wore when Schmidt from Badenburg married Delia Higgins' daughter Ramona. Stupid little whore. Trousers blown up like balloons. They have to have stuffing inside. What is he, a fag?"

Jacques-Pierre reviewed the progress of the match he had initiated, from introduction to, presumably, consummation. "I seriously doubt it."

Veda Mae snorted.

"Mauger and his first wife had several children."

"What does that tell anybody? You have no idea how many politicians they used to catch, back up-time, with perfectly nice wives and children, from the pictures that the papers published afterwards, doing what they shouldn't in men's restrooms at truck stops or lay-byes on the highways."

He nodded.

"This so-called emperor of the USE. Have you seen some of the clothes he wears? Purple. Silver embroidery. Ruffles on his cuffs. And he's left his wife up there in Sweden by herself for years at a time, now. That tells you something, doesn't it?"

Jacques-Perre sipped his coffee, thinking rather abstractedly that Madame Haggerty was in rare form, tonight. As loquacious as always and spiteful to boot. Now, what more fruitful topic might he introduce into the conversation?

"I have heard that one of the Kelly Aviation planes has been taken on a test flight."

"By Lannie Yost, that stupid sot. With Keenan Murphy, who can't shoot at all. And Buster Beasley's kid, Denise. Bob Kelly has to be nuts to send up a crew like that."

"There are some rumors that he didn't approve the flight in advance."

"Probably too henpecked."

"His wife approved it?"

"Not that I know of. Kelly and his wife are outsiders, you know. He was here in Grantville working on a construction project. They got stuck. And stuck-up is what Kay Kelly is. Serves her right to have to spend the rest of her life in some little hick town. Which is how she sees it, I'm sure. That's probably why she accepted the nomination."

"What nomination?"

"To run against Chad Jenkins on the Crown Loyalist ticket. For the seat that Kraut wife of Mike Stearns is giving up. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel-they managed to find someone lower than von Drachhausen. Bottom of the barrel for both parties. When Chad served a term as county commissioner, up-time, he was a real fizzle."

"Oh?"

"But I suppose there's one bright spot. No matter which of them wins, at least it won't be a Kraut."

He could scarcely ask Madame Haggerty to give him a good reason for someone to demonstrate against the Grantville hospital.

She gave him one, without his asking. Truly, the woman was a free gift.

It came in the course of a long recitation of her quasi-medical grievances against what he had learned was called "the establishment." In this case, "the medical establishment" and the physicians whose diagnoses had denied her late husband's right to receive certain benefits for "black lung disability" prior to the Ring of Fire. Madame Haggerty was quite certain that he had been entitled to them, no matter what the doctors claimed that the x-rays showed.

Her specific complaint in this matter escalated into resentment of the medical profession as a whole. Particularly the portion of it that managed the Bowers Assisted Living Center, where she worked.

It would not have occurred to Jacques-Pierre that such a manifest benefit as the prevention of smallpox would have been controversial among the up-timers. However, she brought him a group of "alternative medicine" pamphlets she had found stuffed into the drawer of a lamp table in the vestibule of the assisted living center. By, Madame Haggerty said, somebody who obviously understood "what those quacks who call themselves doctors are up to."

The pamphlets had been very valuable in allowing him to develop the medical rationale that would be used by the protesters at Leahy Medical Center.

He wondered what the Canadian Chiropractic Association had been. Canada, to the best of his knowledge, was very sparsely populated by French settlers, but these pamphlets had been printed in English. The members of the organization had, in any case, been vociferous in their opposition to vaccinations, inoculations, and immunizations. Since the up-time doctors, through the new medical school in Jena, were at the forefront of a campaign to introduce these ways of warding off smallpox, the discovery that there had been up-time opposition to the practice was a delight.

Yes, given his current assignment from Mauger, it was a delight and a comfort to learn that not all up-time influence would be pulling in the same direction. After some questioning, he had discovered that there were a few, though not many, Grantvillers who shared this philosophy.

He took the pamphlets to the Grantviller who called himself a chiropractor. That did not turn out to be very rewarding. The man did not agree with their contents. But his usual presentation of himself as a humble seeker of enlightenment had been quite successful. The man had shown him other materials of the same type that he had collected at "conventions." These appeared to be equivalent to diets or parliaments, but conducted by "professional associations," which were not the same as guilds, but in some ways comparable. The materials had confirmed the existence of differences of opinion.

He notified Mauger.

And Duke Henri, of course, although the duke had never displayed the slightest interest in the topic of vaccinations, pro or con.

He duplicated a couple hundred copies of the anti-vaccination pamphlets for use in central Thuringia. Mauger wrote, saying that he should mail a couple of copies to Frankfurt for printing and distribution from there.

They would soon be circulating quite widely throughout the USE. No one would be surprised when protesters inspired by their contents appeared in Grantville.

"I'm not sure," Pam Hardesty said, "that it would be so bad."

"What?" asked Missy Jenkins.

"Having a mom who's… well. Sort of maternal. What you're complaining about, Missy. A mom who takes an interest in what you're doing. Doesn't want you to get hurt. What do you think, Ron?"

Ron's feelings were ambivalent. Debbie's strong interest in where her daughter Missy was, when, and with whom, tended to have a sort of hamstringing effect on where Missy went and when. The "with whom" had not, so far, kept her from being with him, though.

Ron's own mother had been primarily notable for her absence. So. ..

"Magda's actually a pretty cool stepmother. And she can cook."

Both of the girls looked at him. It must have slipped Pam's mind that the Stone boys, until their father married Magda a couple of years ago, hadn't had a mother at all.

He realized that Pam might be feeling a little bad for having asked him.

"That's okay," he told her. "We were used to it. Making do on our own. It was probably better than having the kind of mom you had to put up with."

Oh, no, Stone. You did not say that. You did not. She's Missy's friend. You're sunk.

"You could," Pam said, "have a point there. You have no idea how happy I was to get the news that she was marrying a foreigner and going away. I'll probably never have to see her again. Never have to be embarrassed again by the slutty things she did. I was sixteen when

…"

Her voice trailed off, then started up again. "That was when I left home. Never again to wake up to get ready for school and find out that she came home drunk and vomited on the shoes in my closet. Inside them. All of them, so I'm standing there in my socks knowing that either I'll be late for school to run the sneakers through the laundromat or go to school stinking.

"Now I'll never have to fend off any more guys who think I'll be like her if they push a little harder. She's gone. She's actually gone. "

Missy listened, astonished by Pam's tone of voice. Not to mention by her statements in regard to shoes.

Obviously, the range of maternal variants included mothers who were far worse than her own.

Which didn't mean that her own wasn't behaving like a pain right now. That was true, too. Compared to the way Nani Hudson was behaving, though, Mom wasn't so bad. Mellow, almost.

Ron stood, watching the end of practice. As a coach, Missy was fierce. Ferocious. Aggressive. Not harsh with the kids, but pulling the best out of those girls and getting them to play their hearts out on a day that even the boys' high school team would have considered a little too cold.

He recognized some of the kids. Most of them appeared to be up-timers. Didn't the down-time parents want their daughters to play, or didn't they have time?

An idea dawned. The Farbenwerke needed its own soccer teams. Boys and girls both. With the idea gotten across that it was really a good thing for the parents to send their little girls out to play.

Missy watched as the girls ran into the building. Then she ran to the edge of the field where Ron was waiting and kissed him. She made sure to do that now. Every time they met. Right out in public. Just so Nani would hear about it.

Well, maybe not just so Nani would hear about it. It sort of put all the other girls in Grantville on notice that they would be trespassing if they so much as thought about kissing Ron Stone at present or any time in the immediate future.

She felt a little guilty about that, occasionally. He hadn't given her any right to put a brand on him. But he didn't seem to have any objection to the procedure.

It occurred to her that this particular kiss was going on for several seconds longer than absolutely necessary to make a point. Maybe she should demand her money back from the cosmic forces for that incense. If they had preserved her from this in the past, they were trying to double-time it now. They made it way too convenient to kiss Ron. He was only an inch or two taller than she was, which meant that no contortions were necessary. She gave herself a little shake and pulled away from the arm he had put around her waist.

It didn't occur to her that he might regard the procedure as an effective hands-off notification to other guys. Not even when he put the arm back and kissed her again. She was too busy trying to keep the impish electrons subdued.

Cunz Kastenmayer saw the kiss. He wondered if he might have averted it, if he hadn't been away for so many weeks, going to Fulda and Frankfurt and back with Mayor Dreeson. Had his mini-tour been worth it?

Then he told himself firmly not to be a fool. All that had happened, once, was that Herr Jenkins' daughter had sat down next to him at a meeting. Only in romances did the daughters of wealthy merchants fall in love with the sons of impecunious pastors, much less marry them. That was one of life's truths. The only kind of girl likely to marry the son of an impecunious pastor was the daughter of another impecunious pastor.

The likelihood that any of the Kastenmayer offspring would ever marry serious money and bring relief to the parental budget was really, to be honest, nonexistent. He pulled his cloak closer around his neck and walked on down the shortcut to catch the trolley that would take him to St. Martin's in the Fields.

Missy wasn't sure she ought to do it.

Her parents knew that she was seeing Ron regularly.

He came to the house to pick her up. So far, he had not come inside.

She'd been fine with that. Really, really, fine with that. She hadn't wanted him to. Somehow, if he was not laying eyes on her parents and her parents were not laying eyes on him, that made it a little less-so.

Made him a little less-so.

He was getting to be way-too-much-so. He was occupying a lot of her personal space.

Missy opened her mouth and invited Ron and Gerry to Thanksgiving dinner chez Jenkins on the excuse that they didn't have family in town.

Then she waited for him to turn it down.

He accepted.

She went home and told her mother that they were coming. The way that Mom had been sniping at her about Ron the last few weeks, it served her right.

Although it might make him even-more-so.

Ron went home and told the facilities manager at the Farbenwerke that he wouldn't have to worry about sending a meal up to the house from the cafeteria Thursday, because he and Gerry would go to the house of Herr Charles Jenkins for the holiday.

Then Ron mentioned the manager's son Lutz, who was in seventh grade at the middle school. The manager was very gratified that Herr Ron remembered.

"Come spring," Ron said, "when the weather allows, we'll be setting up soccer teams out here at the dye works to play in the recreation league. That will mean that the kids can practice near home rather than having to stay in town late. I'll coach the boys myself. Missy Jenkins has agreed to coach the girls."

The manager nodded.

"Missy says that equipment is tight in most sports below high school level, now that Grantville has five times the kids it used to. So as soon as you can, please get in touch with the sheltered workshop they've set up next to the Tech Center. There's a guy who works there a couple of days each week who is sewing leather skins for soccer balls. He only completes about one per week and we'll need at least a half dozen of them. If we want modern valves, we have to corner the market on deflated balls and transfer them. Any old inflatable balls like kids use in splash pools. Those can work for linings, too, if we find the right size. Check with Missy. She can tell you want to look out for."

The facilities manager happily told every other employee, not only about the sports teams the dye works would soon sponsor but also about the dinner.

Especially about the dinner.

The employees at the Farbenwerke had all naturally been concerned about the long term future of the business when Herr Stone's oldest son had married in Italy the previous summer and appeared likely to remain there. So it had been a great relief to all the employees when, so soon after his return, Herr Ron had kissed Fraulein Jenkins right in front of the main building for all to see.

A very suitable choice, everyone agreed. Ron Stone and Missy Jenkins were quite young, of course. But the families in question, both fathers being such prosperous merchants, could certainly afford to have their heirs marry young.

Herr Ron was shouldering his responsibilities very well. Even though he wanted people to call him "Ron" without any form of address, which made several of the older employees quite uncomfortable.

The officials of the employees' union started to give thought to an appropriate celebration once the betrothal was officially announced.

Ron asked himself why he had accepted that invitation? Why he was getting involved with Missy Jenkins? The strong preferences in favor of it expressed by cosmic rhythm and karmic balance aside, of course. Those two obviously thought that getting involved with Missy in every way he could manage was a splendid idea and had started to bring along an associate named primal instinct every time he set eyes on her. That one insisted that if any other guy ever so much as looked at Missy that way, Ron would be obliged to turn him into toast. If any other guy tried to touch her, there would be burnt toast on the menu.

Not that he had any right to feel possessive, of course. They were, ummm, well, something. Friends. Friends plus. That would do for the time being. Definitely not MineMineMineMineMineMineMine.

In grade school, they'd gotten along fine. But in high school, Missy had been the sister of a jock, and Ron and his brothers had usually been on the outs with the jocks. Sure, maybe he had called her "Miss Cheerleading Ditz" a few times, but what could a girl whose parents gave her the totally ridiculous nickname of "Missy" expect? It was barely less absurd than Muffy and Buffy. Not that he had any right to make comments about ridiculous names, given that his own official monicker was Elrond.

Then the high school had stuck them into the accelerated schedule, the one that dumped a half dozen kids abruptly into the real world after summer school. She really hadn't been a ditz, he now realized. That had just been his own prejudices at work. She'd been a cheerleader because everyone expected Chip Jenkins' sister to be one. She'd been one of those four girls every squad needed. The indispensable ones who made up the base of the pyramid. The ones who held up six perky, bouncy girls. Without wobbling.

He'd thought of her as "Miss Utterly Bourgeois." Her father had been a businessman; Ron's father had been a hippie. Now his father was a businessman, too… a successful one. In point of fact, a very wealthy one, now. And, uh, really… Ron was a businessman himself. Probably also wealthy, if he sat down and figured it out.

This could all get very confusing.

Once Ron asked himself the question, he had to admit to himself that he actually was getting involved with Missy. Beyond the mutually enjoyable experience of making out until he ached, every chance they got (which he deemed to be insufficiently frequent) and as far as she would let him go (which he deemed to be nowhere near far enough). That was the "plus" in "friends plus."

Sometimes it seemed closer to "friends minus." Missy had picked up a very clear understanding of the limited reliability of down-time birth control. Some of it, he was sure, came from the health classes during their last two years of high school. He'd sat through those himself. More of it, she said, was based upon advice from Jewell Johnson, the retreaded home economics teacher at the middle school where she had worked as an ESOL aide. Mrs. Johnson had felt quite free to dispense certain types of practical advice to the girls working in the ESOL program, since they had already graduated and attained legal adulthood, advice that perhaps even the health teacher at the high school might have flinched at.

"In my day," Mrs. Johnson would say cheerfully. She made no bones about the fact that she had been born in 1934. "Her day" had been the era before the pill-the great generation gap between the 1950s and the 1960s. Another world. One in which Grantville couples, when they went up to the quarry to neck, took along a length of clothesline to tie the girl's ankles together.

Or didn't, which had led to quite a few hurried weddings.

Missy pushed Ron's hand away. "Right now, I am definitely not interested in human reproduction. Or, at least, not in personal participation in the process. Live with it, or leave."

"Leave?" Ron asked cheerfully. "We're at my house." But he removed the hand.

Unfortunately, he knew that she was right. The various things that people were using for birth control were better than nothing, but.. . not all that good. Birth control now meant, as his dad put it, that over ten years, a well nourished fertile couple on good terms with one another would probably have a statistical two or three kids rather than a statistical four or five kids. If they were consistent and determined.

That was useful from a Malthusian perspective, but it was not exactly fail-safe in any one month.

Or convenient.

Or elegant.

Except, of course, for the method Missy was using. Reliable old standby. Keeping her legs firmly crossed and his hands off sensitive spots. Exactly what, during those last two years of high school, the recalled retired teachers who remembered life before the pill had drilled into the girls and Mrs. Johnson had reinforced. In this fourth year after the Ring of Fire, there were a lot of ways that life in Grantville didn't resemble the twentieth century any more.

"It's almost funny," Missy said. "Nobody talks about it, but you can practically look around town and see which couples opted for a permanent method up-time, once they had as many kids as they wanted. And which ones didn't. Which guys have had it done since the Ring of Fire, once an unexpected addition to the family showed up. And which ones apparently won't, no matter how hard the doctors and midwives push it." She giggled. "When my cousin Bill was detailed here by the army to get his EMT training last year, he was calling Susannah Shipley 'Dr. Snipley.' "

Ron nodded. In spite of everything the medical types had thought up, there were a lot more babies coming along now than there used to be. One thing he had noticed right away when he got back from Italy was that businesses had nursery rooms almost automatically. Private offices were furnished with portable cribs. It was that or lose your female employees.

As for "morning after?" There was only one possibility, now.

"I guess I could go through with an abortion, "Missy said. "If I was raped by Croats or something, and absolutely had to. But I don't want to. I sure don't intend to get myself into a pickle where I even have to think about it."

As for voluntary participation in human reproduction, her motto was, "No way do I want to go through the rest of my life barefoot and pregnant. Well, especially not pregnant. "

She wiggled her toes against his feet. Shoes and socks were among the few items of clothing she thought they could dispense with. The rest were all in the category of parkas and mittens.

He wouldn't try to put his hand back.

At least not this time. Not right now.

Why did he even want to put it on her sturdy, square-ish body? When she was seven or eight, he remembered, she'd had plump cheeks and dimples. The plumpness was long gone. Missy wasn't elfin, like a gymnast, nor graceful, like a figure skater. Very definitely female, almost maddeningly female sometimes. But a guy could see why, when a larger, masculine version of the build turned up on her brother, Chip had played football much better than basketball.

Grantville had quite a few girls who were prettier than Missy Jenkins. Up-timers and down-timers, both. The little Gertrude from Jena who was living with her family and going to school here was a lot cuter, objectively speaking.

But until and unless Ron managed to stabilize that upset karmic balance, the rest of them might as well be made of cardboard. That was fairly disgusting in its own right.

His hand went out again, tracing a line about three or four inches above her body, from neckline to groin.

"What on earth are you doing?"

"Confirming something I suspected."

"What?"

"I'd still be lying here wanting to put my hand on those parts of you if you'd never stopped being a dumpling or had already turned into a Sherman tank."

"Ron, that's gross."

"I think it's pretty basic data."

Chapter 26

Rudolstadt

"It is 'Thanksgiving' today in Grantville, isn't it?" Count Ludwig Guenther asked at breakfast. "A holiday. That's why there are so few up-timers here, going about their business, even though it is a Thursday."

His wife nodded. " Dankfest. Erntedankfest, more precisely. Mary Kat says that it is a harvest festival. Or began as one. But religious, not a fair, not a Kirmess. Though surely Kirmess and Messe , as in the Frankfurt Buchmesse, must derive from the same origin as Messe as a worship service, don't you think? In any case, in Magdeburg last spring, Caroline Platzer, Princess Kristina's lady companion, told me that it was the most intensely familial of their holidays. She hated it so much, the first couple of years after the Ring of Fire. Not that she was alone, because someone always invited her to dinner. But because it reminded her so much that her own family was gone that sometimes she would rather have been alone in her room rather than with someone else's relatives, pretending that she was all right."

Countess Emelie stood up. "Oh, how my back aches. I don't believe that I am hungry after all, dearest. There must be some tie to the liturgy. I'll go check in the library."

Grantville

"I'd expected the girl to come with you, but I suppose that it makes sense, since they have tomorrow off from school too, that Gertrude took the chance to go to see her sister." Eleanor Jenkins got up and looked out the living room window. "And, in a way, it will be nice to have just family for Thanksgiving dinner. Here they come."

"Who?" asked her daughter-in-law Debbie. "And, uh, it's not going to be 'just family,' Mom. Not even near-family, like Chip's Katerina."

"Wes and Clara. I see them coming around the corner. And what do you mean, 'not just family?'

"Missy asked Ron Stone and his little brother. That was when we thought the dinner would be at our place; before we decided to have it here with you. Gerry's come down from Rudolstadt for the holiday. They're out in your side yard, talking to Chip, right now. When they saw that Missy was heading straight for the kitchen, they sort of ducked around coming inside and having to talk to the grownups."

She frowned, mentally identifying and classifying the Stone boys, and then looked around. "What do you think about it, Chad?" she asked her son. "Really. About Wes' getting married again."

Charles Jenkins got up and looked over her shoulder. "Big brother? We couldn't have expected him not to, I suppose. By nature, he's inclined to go out of his way to be a happily married man. I know that you and Dad had more than a few doubts about Lena, too, at first, when he fixated on her when he was barely seventeen. I was five years younger, but even at age twelve I was old enough to figure that much out. That one certainly lasted. Clara seems okay, I guess. At least they didn't rush into it." He grinned. "Except right at the end."

Eleanor looked out through the curtain again. Her older son and his new wife had paused on the sidewalk. Clara looked up at Wes' face and gave a little skip; he put his arm around her shoulder.

"I worried about Lena," she said. "More than I did about Wes, really. When he started going out with her, she used to look at him more like a startled doe caught in the headlights than a girl in love. As if she were hypnotized but barely conscious enough to realize that something odd was going on. It didn't strike me as the best foundation

… But Wes isn't… Never mind. As you say, it certainly lasted and they were happy together. At least it's pretty clear that Clara does love him dearly, his little foibles and all. Which is just as well."

"Wes isn't what?"

Eleanor was still looking out the window. "Callous, I suppose. I guess that would be the best word. He never has been."

"Why 'just as well' for Clara?"

"I don't want to criticize Lena now that she's gone, but she was always very willing to let Wes make up her mind for her. All those years. This time… I have a feeling, Chad, that he has acquired about as much woman as he is likely to be able to handle." She chuckled. "It will be good for him, I think."

One of the cooks was also looking out the window. "Here's Dad and Clara," Chandra said.

"I get to run and hug Grandpa." Mikey was proud of his status as oldest grandchild, which brought him privileges, such as running outdoors by himself, that the younger ones had not yet earned.

"Coat, mittens, hat. Okay." Chandra opened the kitchen door.

"You really like Clara, don't you?" her aunt asked. "No problems that your dad married her."

Chandra grinned. Smirked, more precisely. "I sent her to Ed Piazza to apply for the job in Fulda in the first place."

Deborah Jenkins looked up, startled. "I didn't know that. Neither did Chad."

"I didn't exactly announce the plan with trumpets. I couldn't be sure that it would 'take.' I was beginning to think that it wouldn't, until Kortney Pence came home after last Christmas and reported that there was definitely a mutual attraction in place. Clara had qualms because she didn't have kids during her first marriage, Kortney told us. She thought Dad deserved a second wife who could give him sons. Kortney did a gyne exam while she was over there in Fulda and told Clara there wasn't anything obviously wrong, so if Dad ever got around to making a move, she could do what came naturally with a clear conscience. Lenore said that Dad would be utterly, totally, completely, and abysmally humiliated if he knew that we were sitting there discussing his prospective sex life with Kortney, but we both said that neither of us was ever going to tell him that we had, so that only left her as a possible tattletale."

"And now," her Aunt Debbie giggled, "us. 'Two can keep a secret' and all that. Talk about the blackmail possibilities when I need help from my nieces."

"Why did you pick Clara?" Missy asked.

"Well, because she's different from Mom. At least, she's as different from Mom as a woman could be and still get Dad interested in her."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well, not just that they don't look alike. Though that's true enough, and I didn't think it would be a good idea to try for a rerun. Mom was so 'West Virginia' if you know what I'm trying to say. Lanky, nearly as tall as Dad, straight sandy blonde hair, light blue eyes, oblong face. And Clara…"

Missy laughed. "Is seven or eight inches shorter than he is with curly dark brown hair and a round face. Generally rounded. Yep. Differences duly noted."

"I'd make it nine or ten inches shorter. My knee-length skirts are floor-length on her. But they're also enough alike. People may go around saying that 'bad girls have all the fun,' but they sure aren't going to have any of it with Dad. He may see bad girls in the sense that he perceives that they exist, but he's just not interested. He wants 'everything nice,' like in the rhyme. Mom was really nice, and so is Clara. But…"

"But what?"

"On the rest of it, sugar and spice, Mom was really heavy on the sugar in the mix. Clara's got a lot more spice, I think." Chandra winked.

"Not exactly," Gerry answered Chip. "I do expect to go to the university of Jena, yeah. That's why I decided to attend high school in Rudolstadt rather than here in Grantville, really. I'm not interested in law or medicine. I'm interested in theology. For that, the Latin School in Rudolstadt is head and shoulders better preparation than anything the high school here has yet, even if it did hire several Latin teachers. I want to become a Lutheran minister."

For a minute, Chip stared at him. Then he remembered that Gerry's stepmother Magda was from Jena, and things sort of clicked. He looked at Ron's little brother with considerably more interest.

"I'm going to have to take instruction about becoming Lutheran in order to marry Katerina 'properly,' " he said. "When you come right down to it, in order to marry Katerina at all. There are a few things that seem to be nonnegotiable. Exactly what's involved in it?"

All of a sudden, Gerry's expression changed. Intent. With his red hair, Chip thought, in spite of the round face, it made him look like a setter on the point.

"Before you go back to Jena, you ought to talk to Teacher Muselius. He and Pastor Kastenmayer here have more experience than anyone else in providing instruction to up-timers. Saint Martin's is right on the road outside town leading to Rudolstadt. When are you leaving, you can stop and see them on the way. I'll go with you."

Gerry's description of what he would be expected to do didn't seem too bad. A little tedious maybe, but not bad. Chip listened for a while; then started to retaliate with an equal amount of sententious advice for Gerry.

"You really ought to take at least a few law courses," he said. "Lutheran pastors have to sit on consistorial courts, sometimes. I expect that will keep on happening as long as any of the territories in the USE continue to have state churches. You might as well resign yourself to learning this sort of stuff as well as theology."

Gerry groaned dramatically.

"I mean it," Chip said. He waved his hand toward the sidewalk. "Look there. When Uncle Wes married Clara over in Fulda, I looked up some of the background, and it can get really complicated. Up-time, one day you weren't married; then you got married; the next day you were married all the way, so to speak. Here, there are centuries of accumulated laws, some of them civil, some of them canon, some of them customary. And at least a half-dozen different stages of being married, depending on the jurisdiction. When couples start fighting, the marriage courts-and there are pastors serving on those, too-have to sort the tangles out."

"So that's where the negotiations stand on the marriage contract right now," Chad was saying to his mother. "Dieter von Thierbach has brought up a lot of issues I never would have thought of. Sometimes I long for the 'good old days' when two people just went out and got married."

His wife Debbie shook her head. "They didn't, quite. There was 'going steady.' Letter jackets. Class rings. 'Engaged to be engaged.' There was a song my father used to play. 'Me and my girl are goin' steady, We're not married, but we're gettin' ready.' Maybe we didn't notice it, didn't think of them as 'betrothal rituals,' because we were used to it all."

She turned, hearing a sound at the door. Katerina, the other half of Chip's future marriage contract in person, coming down late. "Why don't you go on into the kitchen," she suggested. "It will be more fun for you with the younger women."

"Hey, Katerina, come in," Missy called from her perch among the pie crusts. "I can use some company. This is our cousin Chandra. Lenore is over at Bryant's sister's." Missy proceeded with the pie crusts.

About fifteen minutes later, Debbie shooed Katerina outside to join Chip. "Go out with the guys," she said. "This kitchen isn't all that big to start with, and it's getting crowded. They're around in the side yard."

"Poor kid," Missy said. "I sort of like her, but talk about a fish out of water."

"They're not likely to settle in Grantville. The kind of career that Chip's aiming at, she'll be in her normal habitat ninety percent of the time, at least. And, as your dad says, a real asset to him."

"Hey, Katerina, come on," Chip called. "I've got more family for you. Meet my uncle, Wes Jenkins, and his new wife, Clara. And Mikey, he's Chandra's oldest. She managed to get the other three down for naps right after she got here, or they would all be out here running us ragged. Plus Ron and Gerry Stone. Ron's sort of informally attached to Missy and Gerry is his brother. Uncle Wes, this is my just-about-to-be-a-fiancee Katerina."

Wes smiled. "I would offer to shake hands," he said, "except that I am carrying two dozen eggs."

Chip turned to the older woman. "I guess you're my Aunt Clara now, aren't you."

She smiled. "Oh, yes. Though I have been someone's Aunt Clara for many years, already." Clara stood on her tiptoes, kissed Wes on the cheek, took the eggs from his hands, and said, "Have fun with Mikey. I'm going to run in and help Debbie and the girls."

Chandra looked out the window, noticed that Mikey had diverted Grandpa and Clara as well as the boys for a visit to the swing set and that Katerina had found them. Then she sighed.

"Aunt Debbie?"

"Yes."

"Have you noticed anything different about Lenore, lately?"

"Like what?"

"Lenore's quite a bit like Mom, you know. She's never been right up front when it comes to expressing her own opinion about anything."

"Yes." Debbie sighed. "Every Thanksgiving, when we were deciding who would bring what, Lena would always say, 'everybody else pick and I'll bring whatever is left on the list.' "

"That was Mom. Sometimes, at dinner, Dad would ask her questions for fifteen or twenty minutes trying to find out if she actually had a preference about where we were going on vacation or what color car they should buy. He was always awfully patient about it. More than I was, once I got into my teens," Chandra admitted.

"So?"

"So Bryant isn't patient like that with Lenore, Aunt Debbie. And he doesn't care at all what she wants, as far as I can tell. He was sort of squashing her between when he got back from Magdeburg and when he left for Frankfurt. At least, he was trying to. Lenore doesn't ever really want to speak up for herself. She's like Mom that way, but this time, she dug in her heels. He wasn't listening. I'm not looking forward to having him get back from Frankfurt next month."

There was a tap, or a light kick to be more precise, at the back door. Missy, hands still sticky, opened up. Clara was waiting. "Hello Debbie, Chandra, Missy. Sorry, my hands are full, but it is eggs, because I promised to show you how to make the egg-glazed flatbreads we always had for the autumn Kirmess."

Missy took the eggs so that Clara could get her cloak off, without interrupting the preceding conversation. "Like you said, Bryant isn't even in town most of the time, any more," she protested to Chandra. "He's off working on these big fire prevention projects. Lenore pretty much has to cope on her own."

"That doesn't keep him from trying to boss her. This time, she honestly doesn't want to do what Bryant is telling her she has to. Not one little bit. I sort of like being a stay-at-home mom, but she went to all the trouble of learning how to read the German handwriting and stuff. She liked what she was doing at work and she doesn't want to give it up permanently. Lenore didn't mind staying home for a while after Weshelle was born. Well, she did, really, even though she went along with him on it, but Weshelle is completely weaned now, old enough that she doesn't have to be an 'office baby.' I can keep her along with my kids."

"What is this leading up to?" Debbie asked.

Chandra looked around from where she was chopping onions for the stuffing. "Lenore's going to go back to work after New Year's. She's already set things up with the judge."

"Isn't that going to cause major problems?" Debbie frowned.

"I don't know if they'll get to be 'major' as long as Bryant is out of town. All he can do from someplace like Frankfurt or Magdeburg is write letters complaining about it. But she hasn't told him. She's trying to evade. That's what bothers me. I'm getting nervous about what might happen when he comes back later on and finds out that she is working again, if she doesn't tell him that she's going to first. Or if someone who doesn't realize how touchy things are right now happens to mention that she's going to while he's here over Christmas. And now that Dad's back, she's likely to ask him to back her up against Bryant."

"Oh." Missy frowned, glancing over at Clara, who was constructing the pastries. Uncle Wes had a temper, sometimes. She wondered if Clara knew that, yet. Probably. They'd worked together long enough.

"You're smart to be taking the librarian training," Chandra said. "Dad would have been happier, you know, if we had both gone through college. Not Lenore taking a few courses here and there and me not going at all because I married Nathan right out of high school. I wasn't really thinking about it, then. Mom only finished high school, after all, and Nathan thought that I needed to work. But since he's been out of town on this armaments business, I'm beginning to think that Dad was right."

"Any change in that argument?" Missy asked.

"No, Nathan still doesn't want me to come to Frankfurt. He's still saying that health care and schools for the kids are so much better here in Grantville, and that's true enough. But he's been gone more than a year and a half. Other guys in other cities have their wives with them, now. And their kids. And he's only come home once. Suhl wasn't that far away, but he's never even seen Lena Sue and Sandra Lou. They're a year old, now. It's scarcely worth making a cake for the first birthday, is it? Sugar is so expensive. They don't really know what's going on, yet, and it's not as if we can take snapshots any more. And he's not coming for Christmas. I took the kids to that new old-fashioned photography shop downtown and got their picture taken together, to send him for a present. But if…"

"If what?"

"If he hasn't come by spring, I'm going to Frankfurt, whether he wants me to or not. Just to see what's going on. That was one thing that I wanted to ask you, Aunt Debbie. If I go to Frankfurt in the spring, could you and Missy keep the kids for a few weeks? Even though you're managing the teacher training now and she's going to school?"

"I'm sure we can."

Chandra looked down at the onions again, blaming them for the tears in her eyes. "Don't skimp on the teacher training program, though. If, well, if things don't work out with Nathan in the long run, I may need it. Or something."

Tom, up from his nap, came wandering down the hall barefoot.

Missy looked up. "Who's on babysitting patrol?"

"You take it, honey," Chandra said. "Get all three of them up, will you, and then take them out where Katerina and the guys are to run off some steam before we start eating.

"And talk to Katerina. She's bound to be feeling a little out of it. Keep her company."

"Nani and Pop are having dinner with Aura Lee and Joe. Ray's family will be there, too. They all decided to go to Aura Lee's when we decided not to have dinner at home but come over to Gran's instead." Missy's tone was very neutral.

"Presumably," Chip said, "Nani has her nose a bit out of joint because the rest of us are here."

"She was expecting a formal presentation of Katerina."

"There's time after dinner. Katerina and I can walk over there and I'll introduce her to everyone else."

"You two," Missy said, "certainly do have an unending store of excuses to go for walks." She gave him a wink. Not only she but everyone else at the table could make a pretty good guess as to what they spent some of their time doing on those walks.

Then she turned. "I'm sure this is exactly how you wanted to spend your first visit to Grantville, isn't it, Katerina? Meeting more and more apparently endless bunches of Chip's relatives, most of whom are going to give you that 'is she really suitable?' look. You'll survive. Clara had to go through it last month and she's flourishing. Aren't you?" She waved to Clara at the other end of the table, who waved back.

Missy turned back to Katerina. "But, of course, she didn't have to face up to inspection by Nani. That's Mom's side of the family."

Chapter 27

Ron Stone was feeling rather paralyzed in the presence of Missy's grandmother. Not so much her parents. Chad and Debbie Jenkins weren't so bad. He'd seen them often enough when he was in high school. But as the conversation progressed, it was slowly dawning upon him that, necessarily, Missy had as many relatives as Chip did. All of whom probably took as much interest in her activities as they did in Chip's. This was just one grandmother. There was another one, somewhere out in the woodwork. A grandfather. More aunts and uncles.

He advised himself to be cool. Yes, that was the word. Cool, Stone, cool. If you are totally casual, maybe they will all be so preoccupied with Chip's girl that they won't notice you. What was that word in the poem they had studied in English literature? Hecatombs? Yes, that was it. Missy didn't just have cousins. She had hecatombs of cousins, most of whom trailed spouses and children along with them.

In the poem, hecatombs had involved broken hearts. Broken dreams. Something broken.

The grandmother was discussing the history of the serving dishes on the table. Each bowl and tray, none of which matched any of the rest, had apparently been passed down in some branch of her mother's family for several generations.

For a guy who had never exactly met his mother, since she had taken off from Lothlorien Commune for parts unknown before he was old enough to remember, this was a little disconcerting. Ron looked a little warily at Gerry, sitting close to the other end of the table, who had never exactly met his mother either. He hoped that Gerry would keep his mouth shut on the subject of mothers.

The old lady asked his opinion on the design of the gravy boat.

To the best of his knowledge, this was the first time he had ever seen a gravy boat.

"Well," he said, "it's bourgeois." Then clearing his throat, "But it's good bourgeois."

Missy was trying not to giggle. Chandra wasn't even trying not to.

Ron had a feeling that he should sink down right through the floor.

Missy's uncle was looking at the gravy boat with a critical eye. "I think," Wes said, "that that's a fair enough assessment."

Missy's grandmother glared at Missy's uncle.

Ron analyzed his feelings and decided that they clearly fell under the label of "immense, deep, profound gratitude." He could, he thought, get to like Missy's Uncle Wes.

He looked toward the other end of the table again. Gerry was talking to Missy's Aunt Clara. Since their conversation was entirely in German, it was more or less sliding in and out among the rest of the dialogue at the table.

At least until Clara looked up to the end of the table where he was and said, "Wesley, how interesting. This young man Cherry plans to study theology at Jena."

Wes looked down toward her, smiling. The soft "g" sound, along with occasional tangles with the past tenses of irregular verbs, was almost Clara's only concession to the fact that English was not her first language. She had even mastered the English "w"-an uncommon achievement for an adult whose native language was German. Though, as she had once whispered into the ear she was tickling, her desire to be able to say "Wesley" correctly as soon as she had the chance had provided an uncommonly strong motivation.

He'd have to ask her, some time, if she had written "Wesley and Clara" on her note paper and drawn hearts and daisies around the names. If she hadn't, it was probably because it hadn't occurred to her.

The boy didn't seem to be offended by "Cherry."

Wes said, "Yes, that is interesting." Because it was. And smiled at her again.

"Actually," Ron said. "He's young enough that he still has a lot of options. Nothing's set in concrete, yet."

"Give it up, Ron," Gerry said. "I am going to be a Lutheran pastor."

Ron groaned to himself. Gerry had not indicated in any way at all that his plans were confidential. He had proclaimed them right out loud. By this time next week, it would be all over town.

He sat there, thinking about his brother Faramir-Frank, to Grantville-and Giovanna's two weddings. One Catholic, performed by a cardinal, in the Sistine Chapel, believe it or not; the other by way of his father's mail order credentials as a minister in the Universal Church of Life in… whatever… and… stuff. His older brother would probably end up Catholic, no matter how socialist and atheist the rest of the Marcolis were. After all, Giovanna had promised the pope himself that she would do all that was in her power to convert Frank. He had a feeling that Giovanna was the kind of girl who kept her word. Plus Frank was chums with Father Gus Heinzerling. Catholic on one side of him, Lutheran on the other. Himself…

Ron was never likely to be "any of the above." His mind didn't work that way.

That was how he lost track of what people were talking about. Only to come back to reality and find out that Missy's father was telling everyone about that ultimately improbable and utterly unfortunate mechanical event, back before the Ring of Fire, in the days when there were car lots in Grantville and his brother had been dating Missy.

Ron had sort of hoped that Chad Jenkins had forgotten that those two had ever dated. It hadn't been for long. Six weeks, maximum.

Why did we come here? he asked himself. We could have gotten a meal from the staff cafeteria out at the plant.

"Mom has quite a display up, doesn't she?" Chad stopped next to his new sister-in-law, who was looking at a wall full of framed family photographs in the rec room.

"I am always fascinated by photographs," Clara answered. "If the Ring of Fire had happened earlier, we in Badenburg, ordinary people, could have had pictures of our grandparents. Not only wealthy people who can afford to have portraits painted. Though my brother Dietrich does have a drawing of my grandfather Pohlmann, who lived in Arnstadt, made by a student at the Latin School. He was no great artist, but it is said to be a good likeness. It is in pen and ink, though, so it does not tell us the color of his hair and eyes any more than these 'black and white' ones.

She looked at the wall critically. "Though, mostly, they are shades of gray, and some are more tan or brown. Wes says that we will have our photograph made and give a copy to your mother for Christmas. And to my father."

"Your family is okay with having you marry an up-timer?"

"Yes. Maybe they would not have been 'okay with it' two years ago, but there has been enough time now. In any case, I did not ask them. I did not request their permission."

It was an oddity in her English, Chad thought. A tendency to say the same thing, or almost the same thing, two or three ways in succession, as if she were trying out different model sentences from a conversation manual to see how they fit.

Clara turned back to the wall. "Who are all the people?"

Chad toured her through the Jenkins and Newton families, with a side trip through the five Williams sisters.

"A violinist," she said, looking at Joe Newton's picture. "That is interesting. And this man is your other grandfather, Hudson Jenkins?"

"A fiddler more than a violinist. On the other, Hudson Jenkins, yes. He died young and Grandma Mildred married again. This is her second family, with Clarence Walker, taken right after World War II. That's Dad, over in the corner, at the end of the back row."

Clara looked back and forth, from Hudson Jenkins to his son standing in a far corner of the Walker family photo, then to Joe Newton with his wife and daughters.

"Perhaps," she said slowly, "it is as well that we do not all keep photographs of our families."

Chad raised an eyebrow. "Meaning?"

Clara frowned at the photos she had been examining. "I knowed-knew-already that Debbie was a widow when she married you." She pointed. "There is the photograph for her first wedding, to the soldier who was killed. Don Jefferson. You said that this child"-she pointed to a snapshot of a little girl about six years old-"is her daughter, Anne, the nurse who has gone to Amsterdam. But there is no first husband for your mother."

She pointed to the wedding photograph of John Charles Jenkins and Eleanor Anne Newton, the date in an ornamental garland at the top. Then to a family picture, taken shortly before Wes and Lena married, the two of them standing in back, one on each side of their sister Mary Jo, who had been left up-time, with their parents sitting in front, drawing the downward slant from Wes' height to Chad's, the shape of each face and hairline, on the glass with her fingernail. "Where did Wesley come from?"

Chad looked at her, considering what he should say. Fresh eyes.. .

"Never mind," she added, before he had said anything. "It makes no difference."

"Things happen," he said. "Dad did the right thing."

Clara, he decided, was not only "okay" but also no slouch.

She was looking at Wes' and Lena's wedding photo now, then one with Lenore about ten and Chandra about eight, both long legged and gawky. "Those little apples did not fall very far from the tree," she commented.

"I expect that Wes has copies of most of those newer ones. You'll have to ask him to dig out the albums."

"I wish that Lenore could have come today," Eleanor Jenkins said.

"Too many places for her to be, Gran," Missy said. "Bryant wrote her. The letter made a fuss that she should have noon dinner with his sister Lola, and then the Days wanted her and Weshelle for supper. Maybe she can run in here for an hour or so between two Thanksgiving dinners, the way Chandra is going to do for the Pricketts, before she goes to the Days'. Well, Chandra's really going over to David Jones' house, since Nathan's mom is Mr. Jones' sister and they're having Thanksgiving there. I can phone Lenore at Lola's and ask, but I wouldn't count on her being able to get away soon enough."

"Jasper Day isn't even in town. He's up in Magdeburg, still, so she doesn't have grandparents there. Believe me, at Thanksgiving a grandmother outranks three aunts. If she had to be at Lola's for dinner, she could have dropped in on the Days this afternoon and come here for leftovers for supper." Eleanor's voice was very firm.

"They guilt-trip her, Grandma. Because Aunt Lena and Sarah and Diana and Di's girls had gone to the movies together and were left up-time, now Janice and Nell and Cassandra are putting pressure on Chandra and Lenore and Sarah's kids to hang tight with them as a family group. Which goes triple now that Ed Monroe and Chauncey Wilson as well as Uncle Wes have all remarried. Plus, they're pushing even harder since Janice and Ross adopted five kids and Nell and Fenton have adopted two kids. Replacements for the ones they lost. They're trying to focus on them, I guess. Bonding and all that kind of stuff. Make them feel that they are really part of the family. Plus, with Cassie remarrying to a German guy this month and bringing in three stepchildren… and the Nazarenes lost almost their whole church congregation and their minister. The Days were hit really hard by the Ring of Fire."

"You're sounding very grown up, littlest granddaughter."

"Teacher training. Child psychology as well as library science. I'm not 'littlest' any more, really," Missy said. "You'll have to promote one of the great-granddaughters to spoil in that spot. Or leave it vacant for a while, considering that Chandra's girls are twins, which might cause sibling rivalry. Wait and see what Chip and Katerina produce once they get themselves organized."

"Missy, where are you going?" Debbie hurried out into the hall.

"Home. Gran brought up 'good bourgeois' and started saying things about Ron's dad. He and Gerry left."

Debbie winced. Her mother-in-law's talent for disguising catty remarks as polite comments was one of the banes of her life. It occurred to her that Ron Stone might not be so bad to have around if he had an antenna that picked it up too.

"I'm sorry, hon. But you can't go straight home. You've got to stop by Aura Lee's. You can't not go see Nani and Pop on Thanksgiving. Everyone's feelings will be hurt if you don't."

"Sometimes," Missy said. "Sometimes I wish that people would collect all the things they get hurt feelings about and put them out in a garbage can."

"Sorry I put you through that," Ron said, lounging on his dad's favorite bean bag chair.

"No problem," Gerry answered. "Dinners like that are part of what pastors have to learn to do."

Ron stared a minute. More alien than Mork from Ork.

Then he got up and looked in the mirror. Missy. Miss Utterly Bourgeois. That meant that she knew, without thinking about it, where her body, her face, her hair, every bit of her, came from. What did he know about himself? Looking at his reflection, he had to admit that it would probably have been sort of hard to tell the origin of any of the component parts, even if he had known his mother at all and his father for sure, given how… average… the whole ensemble was that looked back at him.

For the first time in his life, it occurred to him that even though his biological paternity was a bit optional, so to speak, Dad had at least known his mother. In every sense of the word. They'd been acquainted. In his next letter to Italy, he would ask what she had looked like. Even if the answer was "sort of all-round unimpressive," that would be something. And his school records should have a copy of his birth certificate. He could ask for a copy of it to back file with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Maybe he ought to do that for all three of them. It wasn't a bad idea to make sure that your paperwork was in order.

"It can't be serious, Chad. Can it?" Debbie took off her shoes and propped her feet up on a hassock. It had been quite a day. "They can't be serious?"

"No idea," Chad answered sleepily, tilting his recliner backwards before folding his hands across his chest.

"Surely not. Oh, surely not. They're only eighteen."

"Nineteen next month. Both of them. Out of high school for quite a while now, when you think about it."

"She was just being nice because their father and stepmother are still in Italy. If they hadn't come here, where would they have eaten?"

"With somebody else, I expect. Or done something at their place with chicken. Based on the way she was looking at him, wherever he was, she would be too. Seemed rather taken by him. Vice versa. Both trying hard to keep anyone else from noticing. Success level with that project measurable at roughly zilch. Very taken with him. Can't imagine where she gets it," he yawned.

That was probably the best tack to take, he thought, remembering that Debbie had been seventeen and still in high school when she married Don Jefferson, who was only a year older. She was eighteen when Anne was born and Don was killed in Vietnam. Willie Ray had used every ounce of political clout at his disposal to get the school board to let her come back the next year and graduate. Willie Ray had once told him that Debbie would have run off with Don if he hadn't given his consent at the time. Debbie had been a rather determined young lady herself, Chad mused. Nope. Absolutely can't imagine where Missy gets it.

"Charles Hudson Jenkins!"

He assured himself that Debbie hadn't been reading his thoughts. "It's not as if Tom Stone is a social pariah any more. He's made a ton of money legally and his father-in-law's not too shabby when it comes time to bargain either."

"Well, I'm going to call Mother. If Missy came straight home rather than stopping by Aura Lee's, I might as well hear about it now as later."

She reached for the phone extension, listened a moment, and put the receiver down again. "It's busy."

Chad raised an eyebrow.

"Missy and Ron. Dissecting the dinner events." She frowned. "Missy has a sharper tongue than I ever realized. I wish that I weren't such an honorable mom. I might have learned a lot from eavesdropping longer."

"What did you learn in fifteen seconds?"

"That Gerry called the Lutheran minister out at St. Martin's as soon as they got home from here. About Chip's needing to take instructions, I mean."

"That's not exactly revolutionary news. Chip broke it to us a long time ago. And they are Protestants. Lutherans, I mean. I looked that up after Vera said…"

Debbie would rather not talk about her mother right now. "According to Ron, this school teacher out there, the one who is going with the Kochs' daughter, is practically keeping a prize list under the heading of 'up-time converts we have caught.' With Chip, at the moment, as a candidate for the blue ribbon."

"One hand washes the other. We can't expect all the influence to run one way. Doesn't the Koch girl count as a prize?"

"The Kochs were Lutheran already. Before."

"Oh. I guess I never knew that. Our paths didn't cross much."

Chapter 28

Grantville

The plane banked and came down neatly on the landing field just outside the edge of the Ring of Fire.

The walls weren't as smooth and sharp as they had been in the spring of 1631. Where there was soil above the rock, they were starting to erode.

"I still don't like using a government plane for what's really a private trip," Mike Stearns groused.

"Travel is dangerous for babies," came his wife Becky's firm response. "Baruch is barely two and I am still nursing. It is a miracle that they didn't catch something deadly on the trip from Amsterdam to Magdeburg. It will be a miracle if they don't catch something deadly on this trip."

"Gustav ordered a plane to bring us to Magdeburg, too. What are they likely to catch, spending a couple of hours in the air with their parents and one pilot, that they might not catch at home? It's not as if you were dragging them around on wagons and barges for weeks. Or even on a truck for a couple of days, stopping at inns at night."

The plane taxied to a stop. Chocks. Steps. A government truck.

"Damn, I hate these perks of office," Mike said. "They're bound to come back and bite us on the campaign trail. No matter what Gustavus Adolphus says about down-time standards being different, I'm not a down-timer, so Wettin's propagandists will be all over me for using government resources for personal trips. And not just Wettin's people. Some of our own, like Joe Stull, when he hears about it. There's just no 'give' to that man."

A couple of young men from the ground crew scrambled into the plane and started unloading.

"The next time," Woody said to Emil. "The next time, you fly them. Okay, I know the calculations. Two babies weigh a lot less than one adult, so we can transport four people plus the pilot when it's the prime ministerial family. But it's not just two babies. It's two babies and all that gear. And ear problems, so there I am, flying the whole way with one of them whining and the other one squalling. Next time…"

Opa had explained all about it. Sepharad's daddy was bringing her mommy this time. With a brother for her to play with, and a new baby.

She believed it, but that was very different from seeing it.

Daddy came to Grantville every couple of months. Sometimes oftener. Sephie knew him. She adored him. He came and when he came, he was hers.

She knew he was coming.

She was waiting by the door. Opa told her when he saw the plane coming. He took her out in the yard to watch. She knew that after the plane landed, Daddy would come.

He did.

With a strange woman, whose hand was resting on his elbow. He was holding the hand of a little boy about her size. Carrying a baby against his chest. Bringing them into her house.

Sephie knew how to handle this. It was a time for courage. Bravery. Spunk, Daddy called it. He told her on every visit that she was a little girl with a lot of spunk.

This was not a moment to hide behind her grandfather.

Sephie marched out onto the front steps and said it plainly.

"You can take them back, now."

"It's her age," Balthazar said to his devastated daughter. "The books of the up-timers call it 'the terrible twos.' "

***

"There's an acronym for the way Sephie's behaving today," Mike said to Balthasar. "Or, at least, there was up-time. But I don't think that Becky needs to know what it was."

Grantville, Dreeson Household

Veronica stood at the train station. Henry had decided to wait at home, since it would be nearly supper time when the train got in. The early dark of winter was closing down already. The wind was chilly and his hip was aching.

Annalise waited next to her, holding Will by the hand; Nicol on the other side, holding his other hand. Thea had decided to wait at home, too. Which made sense. The girl was as big as a house by now.

All the children came down, cold evening or no cold evening. Martha was seventeen now, the same age as Annalise. The oldest, the most damaged by the war. A good girl. She was holding Joey, wrapped up as warmly as they could wrap him, in her arms.

Hans Balthasar-the up-time children called him "Baldy," partly from his name and partly from the scar on his scalp, she supposed. He didn't seem to mind the nickname. He left school this year and took an apprenticeship at the Kudzu Werke. Henry and Nicol talked to the owners; they would see to it that he learned enough to make him into a good craftsman.

Karl and Otto, who'd been ten and nine years old at the Battle of the Crapper. Now they were teenagers, stretching out tall. Sue and Chris, also both with up-time nicknames. Little Johann was long since back with his own family in Jena; the rest of the family hardly ever saw him.

The train was late. Of course, the train would be late. The first time they had seen Gretchen and Jeff in nearly two years and the wonderful, splendid, industrial, rapid, so-great-a-modern-improvement train was late.

How late? She stomped over to the stationmaster's office for what seemed like the tenth time, but in fact was only the fourth.

"Fifteen minutes? That's what you said a half hour ago."

She stomped back to the waiting group.

No matter how cold it was, she almost begrudged the fact that this time, in fact, the stationmaster was right.

***

They jumped off together. Of course Gretchen would not wait for someone to hand her down. Annalise let go of Will's hand and ran forward. Veronica waited; then greeted them with, "It's a miracle you are not both dead like Hans, the things you have done. This is your cousin Dorothea's husband, from back home."

Nicol came forward, leading Will. He was four, now. Nicol and Thea had spent a lot of time explaining to him that his Mutti and Vati were coming to visit him. Tall for his age, blond, blue-eyed, serious. Before Gretchen could kneel down to hug him, he reached up and solemnly shook her hand. And said, "I am very pleased to meet you."

Jeff laughed, but Gretchen gasped.

At least, Veronica thought, they wouldn't be able to find fault with his manners.

Martha came up with Joey. He turned away from the strangers, burying his face in her neck. "He's cold," she said apologetically. "He doesn't want to put his face out in the wind."

The others, old enough to remember, wanted hugs.

After dinner, warm and fed, Joey was happy enough to play with the visitors. Until bedtime. When Jeff started to pick him up, he yelled for Martha. She took him and started upstairs. Gretchen got up to come along. Then he yelled for Thea. Until he got Thea.

Jeff and Gretchen sat down at the supper table again.

"He's just a baby," Will said. "You can't expect him to be polite, yet."

Will was very nice about letting Jeff and Gretchen help Annalise put him to bed.

"Joey'll start warming up to you in a few days," Henry remarked while the womenfolk were upstairs seeing to baths and bedtime stories for the rest of the bunch.

Jeff looked up, startled. "Didn't Gretchen tell you? We can't stay that long. We've been on the train all day. I only have a four day pass and we'll need another whole day to get back to Magdeburg. Two days. That's all we have. I have to get back to work and she has to hit the campaign trail again."

"Until the election," Veronica said. "Until the election, and no longer."

"There is no way we can move everyone to Magdeburg." Gretchen shook her head. "Rents are out of this world. We're living in two rooms. We can't afford a house with room for eight more. Nine more, if you're intending to throw Annalise out, too."

"Gretchen, don't be…" Jeff put his hands out, palms up. "You can see for yourself that Henry's a lot more feeble than he was when we left for Paris."

Part of the problem was that Gretchen could. See it, that was. Which made her a little sharp tongued.

"Well, don't say that in front of him," Veronica said tartly. "He knows it, but he doesn't have to know that other people notice. And of course I am not intending to throw Annalise out. She's going to college."

"We can't take them all back with us. Not now. Not at Christmas."

Veronica grimaced. "Not as far as the eye can see, perhaps?"

"We can probably hang on here a while longer," Henry said to Jeff. "Just letting things ride. But not forever. That's the simple truth of it. I know it and Ronnie knows it. I'm watching a lot of my contemporaries, couple by couple or one by one, get to the point where they have to give up their houses and go into assisted living. Extended care, if something really goes wrong. The longer Gretchen procrastinates, the crankier Ronnie is going to get about it. She's younger than I am by quite a few years, but this is one thing where you have to make your decisions on the basis of the 'weaker vessel,' No matter what the Bible says, this time it's not the woman."

Jeff shifted in his chair. "If Gretchen's grandma thinks that she's short on cash, she ought to look at our budget. Being a political organizer has its rewards, I guess, but they don't come in the form of money. What do they call them? 'Psychic compensation?' Something like that. In Paris and Amsterdam, we were living on the embassy's dime. We had to pay for our clothes and stuff, which we covered out of my army salary-whenever that got delivered through the siege lines; we had to borrow a lot-but Becky provided our room and food. Covered the travel expenses, too. That's gone now. We're on our own, and while I'm at least getting my army pay regularly now, the fact is that the pay sucks. After the election, Henry. I'll try to get something organized so we can take the kids with us after the election. That's the best I can do. And, honestly, Gretchen hadn't let me know that Ronnie was so upset."

"-college tuition. And that's just for Annalise. Martha's only a year behind her in school; Henry's already paying for Hans Balthasar. You should leave him here, at least, and not take him away from his master. They'll let him board. Then four more who are between fourteen and twelve now, three of them boys. To be apprenticed or kept in school." Nicol shook his head. "Honestly, Jeff. What was Gretchen thinking?"

"When she adopted them? That, with any luck, she could keep them alive. In a way, this argument's showing me, better than anything else could, how far we've come in how short a time. The day I met Gretchen, even the day I married her, she wasn't thinking about schools and apprenticeships for these kids. She just hoped she could find food for them, one day at a time. Talk about a 'revolution of rising expectations.' The problem is that our income isn't keeping pace. Especially since they're so bunched up in age, except for Will and Joey. If it was just Will and Joey, we'd have a break, another twelve or fifteen years for me to get promotions and raises before we had to worry about paying college tuition."

"-Quedlinburg, if I can just find the tuition."

"Quedlinburg isn't the only choice, Oma," Annalise said. "I know you like the abbess, but there's the new university in Prague, too."

"It's a lot longer way to travel." Veronica looked stern. "Who knows what Wallenstein will get up to next? And they don't have dormitories. Quedlinburg does. Supervised dormitories. Plus, Mrs. Nelson is teaching there. You know her. She used to be at the middle school here."

"I know Mrs. Roth, too, and she's in Prague. And other Grantvillers. We could find someplace for me to stay, if I went there. Anyway, by the time I graduate, they should have the new women's college in Franconia started up, too. The one that Bernadette Adducci is founding. I think I might like it better."

"Why?" Gretchen asked.

"Well, it's in the SoTF. And it's Catholic. Quedlinburg is Lutheran."

"Saint Elisabeth's won't be a state college," Veronica pointed out. "The tuition isn't going to be any cheaper than Quedlinburg. And they won't have dormitories ready next year."

Gretchen was prepared to ignore the dormitory issue, though it was obviously near and dear to her grandmother's heart. "Do you mean to say you would choose a school because… because… because of a confessional allegiance?"

"Well, not just that. No, don't go all hostile and CoC on me. I'm not a bigot. Idelette Cavriani is my best friend, and she's a Calvinist. But I'm Catholic, Gretchen. You can believe whatever you like. Or not believe anything, as you choose. But I am a Catholic. It makes a difference to me."

Veronica looked her grimly. "Quedlinburg. If I can find the tuition, of course."

Some one walked up quietly and sat down on the floor next to his recliner. Henry lifted his head and blinked a couple of times to clear his eyes.

"Henry…"

"Yep. Evenin', Martha."

She did that sometimes. Just came and sat there, like she needed a little company.

"I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you."

"No, no. Just resting my eyes for a bit. You're always welcome."

"Henry?"

"Yes."

She put one hand on the arm of his chair. "Do I have to go? If they take the others?"

"Of course not, Margie. Sorry, I mean Martha. You're always welcome to stay here."

"I owe Gretchen so much. I ought to be willing to go, whenever she wants me to, and help her with the younger ones. But I want to finish high school here. I want to learn to be a librarian, like Missy Jenkins and Pam Hardesty. Mrs. Bolender says I can, if I do well in school this year and next. I help Ms. Fielder at the public library, already. I don't want to go off wandering to every place in Europe that needs a Committee of Correspondence organized."

"Don't blame you. I was glad to get home myself, this fall."

"It seems so selfish of me."

"Just because she pretty much saved your life, and your sanity, that doesn't mean you owe her unpaid nannydom forever and a day. Which is what it would amount to."

"Okay."

She sat there quietly for a few more minutes.

"Do I have to say so, right now?"

"Naw. Leave it till Jeff and Gretchen actually make some move to take the kids. To be perfectly honest, I'll be awfully surprised if they turn up the week after the election and say they're all set to go with the rest of them."

"-couldn't believe what Annalise said. And that Thea! Cousin or not, she has the brains of a peahen."

"C'mon Gretchen," Jeff said. "Settle down and go to sleep. We've got blessings to be thankful for."

Chapter 29

Grantville

Susan Logsden was happy at Thanksgiving dinner. Grandpa Ben Hardesty, Grandma Gloria, Pam, Cory Joe briefly back from Magdeburg on leave. All with her; all at Cory Joe's dad's cousin Gerrie's. She was Gerrie Bennezet now. Her husband was a Walloon Huguenot who had come to work at USE Steel and then set up his own blacksmith operation here in Grantville.

When they went around the table saying what each of them was thankful for, Grandma Gloria said that she was grateful to Gerrie that she didn't have to cook the dinner this year.

Susan suspected that she was also grateful not to be at her daughter Betty's, this year since things were still a bit strained between Aunt Betty and them-Velma's kids. Grandma and Grandpa weren't at Aunt Betty's because Aunt Betty and Uncle Monroe Wilson had gone to Fulda last month to be Mormon missionaries. Joe and the two adopted children had gone with them.

Grandpa and Grandma would be having pizza for supper with the other Wilsons, the Nisbets, and the Sterlings, leaving the three of them on their own.

Most of the people here were Gerrie's family. Her daughter Paige was married to Derek Modi. She was here, with the kids. Derek had gone to Lubeck. Paige said she was thankful that he had arrived safely.

Gerrie's daughter Marlo worked at Cora's as a cashier. She had married a Scot, a guy named Malcolm Finlay, back in February. She was going to have a baby. Marlo said that she was thankful for the baby.

Cora Ennis might be Grantville's worst gossip, but Marlo was catching up to her fast. Before dinner, she and Paige had been talking about the fact that Chandra Prickett's husband hadn't even stopped by in Grantville on his way from Suhl to Frankfurt. That he wasn't seeing anyone in Suhl, though.

And Paige didn't think it was likely that he would be seeing anyone in Frankfurt, either. Paige said that if Nathan Prickett ever went straying off the straight and narrow, it wouldn't be with some German woman. It would be with Bryant Holloway's sister Lola. He'd been dating her before either of them ever got married. But Lola, like Chandra, was right here in Grantville. She worked as an assistant in the optician's office, she had been working there ever since she divorced Latham Beckworth back before the Ring of Fire, and she sure hadn't been going down to Suhl and she wasn't going to Frankfurt for visits.

Actually, Marlo pointed out, since Bryant was married to Chandra's sister Lenore now, Lola was part of that family, in a funny kind of way.

Mr. Bennezet and Sergeant Finlay had been talking about Huguenots, spies, and other topics of common interest. Pam and Cory Joe had been listening to that, since their mother Velma had married a Huguenot. Then Cory Joe asked whether Bennezet had experienced much in the way of anti-immigrant sentiment among the up-timers. Bennezet said that it varied. He did quite a lot of specialized work for Grantville-Saalfeld Foundries and Metalworks. Some of the people there were very friendly. The boss was not, but although two of the men had married down-time women, he had not fired them. But Bennezet understood from conversation that several of the friendliest up-timers working there would not be averse to finding other employment if an opportunity arose. The main obstacle was that none of them wished to uproot their families by leaving Grantville.

Now they were talking about the same things again. Susan listened to the grownups for a while and began to wish that she had brought a CD player and earphones along.

She was mostly glad that her mother was somewhere in the Netherlands instead of here. It hadn't been much fun growing up as Velma Hardesty's daughter. Maybe she could be thankful for that, but she had a feeling that it would be better not to say so when her turn came. Grandma Gloria thought tact was important.

She'd say that she was thankful that she would have Cory Joe and Pam to herself this evening. That was true enough.

The Jones family always had Thanksgiving dinner late, because Simon and Mary Ellen were busy with the services at the Methodist church in the morning. For the same reason, they had it at his brother's house, since David's wife was a teacher and always had the day off, so she could do the cooking. And she had the next day off, for that matter, so she could clean up. Nobody ever asked Susan what she thought of this arrangement. The rest of them took it as a given.

David Jones, the assistant principal of Grantville's elementary school, looked around the table. At the other end, his wife. All three of their children were home. Austin with Alison and little Susie, the new baby due next month. Ceci's husband Harry Ennis-and they just got married earlier in the month-was already back in Magdeburg with the army. Ceci had already gone over to Cora's, her home, not the cafe, for lunch with his mom and Melinda, his brother Joe's wife. And Steve and Phoebe.

It wouldn't be long, probably, before Ceci went to Magdeburg herself. As soon as Harry found a place for them to live.

He wasn't so happy with Caroline's pick, Trent Dorrman. Less education, fifteen years older than she, divorced, a grown son, what had to be a dead end job at Grantville-Saalfeld Metalworks and Foundries, Baptist rather than Methodist. Not what he had hoped for his older daughter.

When he'd brought it up before the marriage, she had answered a little bitterly, "Are you fishing? Pushing? What do you want me to say? That I left it too long, up-time? That the pickings are slim these days for a woman my age?" Since then, he had kept his mouth shut.

Dorrman was a quiet type. The two of them had been married a little over a year. Caroline was pregnant now; she planned to keep on working at the accounting firm after the baby was born. She and Trent seemed to be getting along with one another well enough. The less said the better, probably.

Next to Ceci, his sister Sandra Prickett and her husband. Their son Nathan was in Frankfurt now, of course. Their daughter-in-law Chandra had run in with the four grandchildren earlier in the afternoon before going over to her mother's family for supper.

His brother and wife, the Reverends Simon and Mary Ellen Jones, with children. Though, of course, Vanessa's husband, Jake Ebeling, was down in the Upper Palatinate with the army. He laughed to himself. While Simon was away in Italy, the Reverend Mary Ellen had unabashedly started a campaign for ensuring the future of Methodism in a time line in which John Wesley had never been born and never would be born by matchmaking among the church's younger generation. She had done more weddings in those nine months than First Methodist normally held in three years.

Then Mary Ellen's whole crew of Sebastian relatives. Well, except that Allan Sebastian's two girls by his first marriage had both gone up to Erfurt to spend a long weekend with their husbands, who couldn't get away to come to Grantville.

Finally, his sister Laura Ann had been left up-time, but her son Bill and family and Bill's Furbee grandparents were here. Bill's brother Johnny was out of town, gone back to his station with the army over in Fulda, where he had married a German girl. He'd brought Antonia to meet the family earlier in the fall. Their baby had been born and died last spring.

It was odd, in a way. Of all the families in Grantville, theirs had about the least marrying back and forth with down-timers. Only Johnny, of all of them, and that while he was stationed away for so long.

Even Jarvis Beasley had remarried to a German girl; he met her while he was in the army. That had sort of given his father Ken and the others who haunted the 250 Club a black eye. Jarvis wasn't welcome there any more.

So many people were more or less permanently out of town, now, because of the war effort.

First Methodist had done a lot of charity work among the refugees, of course. But it hadn't done much in the way of outreach, so far. Not much evangelism. A couple of down-time wives, like Farley Utt's Maggie, had joined the church, but most of them hadn't.

Maybe he ought to talk to Simon and Mary Ellen about evangelism. Being ecumenical had been all well and good in the twentieth century. If they relied entirely on growing their own in the seventeenth century, though, Methodism would be doomed to remain a minority sect. A tiny minority sect, if you looked at Europe as a whole.

Minnie Hugelmair had received her promotion from sixth grade to seventh the day before Thanksgiving break started. She was determined to have that eighth grade diploma by next spring. She didn't see any reason why she couldn't finish the other two grades of middle school in six months. School stuff wasn't exactly hard. All she had to do was read the books, fill out the assignments, and turn them in.

She owed Benny. She ate her Thanksgiving dinner with the Pierce and Coffman families like a proper lady, as Louise would put it.

Then she went up to the storage lot. Denise's dad had faith in her and she owed him for it, too. Denise had gone off somewhere, flying in a plane with those losers Lannie Yost and Keenan Murphy, chasing after defectors. Which had to be hard on Buster and Christin, not having their daughter here on a big, important, up-timer holiday.

So she ate Thanksgiving dinner again.

Rudolstadt

Count Ludwig Guenther of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, aged fifty-three, looked proudly on the son he had never, during his long bachelorhood, expected to have.

Countess Emelie, aged twenty, smiled up at him, beatifically exalted in the realization of a job well done, a duty superbly performed, and having made her kindly husband possibly, at this moment, the happiest man in the USE. In addition to which, of course, she had a baby. The most wonderful baby ever born.

"What are you going to call him?" his widowed sister-in-law asked.

"Albrecht, I think, for our father. And Karl, for my brother."

Anna Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst smiled. She was the widow of the late Count Karl Guenther. "And, of course, naming him for your father will also provide a suitable opportunity to reach out to the Crown Loyalists by inviting Duke Albrecht of Saxe-Weimar to lift him from the font. An excellent choice of godfather, by the way."

"No Ludwig?" Emelie asked. Then with a little laugh, "No Guenther to join the forty or more previous Guenthers who have been counts in Schwarzburg?"

He smiled again. "Not this time, I think. God willing, there will be other sons to bear those names." He leaned over and placed the baby back in her arms. "But, I think, it is an opportune moment for a little 'cultural borrowing,' as they call it. I shall proclaim that this day of the year will henceforth be a Dankfest in Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, too."

PART FIVE

December 1634

Hovering on wing under the cope of hell

Chapter 30

Frankfurt am Main

"The anti-vaccination pamphlets are excellent. Perhaps we should make the effort to find out who Mauger's informant is. He appears to have some talent." Fortunat Deneau was actually smiling.

"The increased virulence of the criticism of Stearns and his allies by the Crown Loyalists is also opening up marvelous propaganda opportunities. Splendid ones." Ancelin was also smiling as he read the paper. "How opportune of those Grantvillers to defect to Austria at this time."

"How are Vincenz Weitz's contacts developing?" asked Locquifier.

"He will be able to provide us with sufficient practical assistance," Deneau answered. "He will continue to explore his various contacts until he has, I hope, a few hundred people who are willing to conduct demonstrations and start minor riots whenever and wherever he tells them to. Once he has reached that point, and actually conducted some preliminary agitation in other Thuringian towns-Arnstadt, Badenburg, Stadtilm, Ilmenau-not villages, but small cities-I will be in a position to set up the attack in Grantville itself."

"March fourth, you realize. Coordination is important. It must be the fourth of March, precisely. Weitz is very insistent on that point."

"Yes, Guillaume," Ancelin said. "I know."

Locquifier frowned. There would necessarily be so many people involved in the synagogue attack that there was an extremely high danger of leaks. Still, there were some measures that they could take in advance. It was not as if Weitz were the only anti-Semite in the Germanies. Someone else had written the pamphlets directed against Rebecca Abrabanel. Someone else was producing the worst of the slanders against Francisco Nasi. They were not coming out of Frankfurt. So…

"Robert."

Ouvrard looked up from the newspaper.

"You need to write several pamphlets, short ones, in the style of those attacking the wife of Stearns and the spymaster. Those pamphlets will…" He slowed down a little, thinking on his feet. "… at least make some references, not direct threats but references, to those Jews who have settled within the State of Thuringia-Franconia, even within the Ring of Fire itself, and think themselves secure there. Thus, if there are some leaks from among the people Deneau and Weitz are recruiting, there will be several false leads already out in public. That will divert attention from us."

"What about Antoine and Michel? They might not like us doing that."

Ancelin interrupted before Locquifier could continue. "Don't say anything about strategy or policy, purposes or goals. Nothing about us. You will be writing in the name of others, making comments that purport to come from others. Antoine can't complain about that. Well, he can, I suppose, being Antoine. If he finds out. But I don't see any reason to tell him. If we are lucky, he'll never need to know that we are the source of these little diversions."

Deneau, who liked to have all of his ducks in a row when he was organizing a riot, asked, "What about the hospital?"

"Mauger has assured de Ron that his agent feels confident of organizing a demonstration against the hospital that, if you give it a couple of hours of advance time, will be large enough draw away the Grantville police-almost all of the police force-before the attack on the synagogue begins."

Switzerland

Henri de Rohan felt pretty good about the perceptiveness and intelligence of his agent on the scene in Grantville. Although, as he remarked in his next letter to his wife, that does tend to be the reaction when someone agrees with you-especially when that person has been reared in your own household. It only confirmed his belief that talent should be cultivated to its fullest, even when it blossomed in the humblest of worldly circumstances.

Jacques-Pierre Dumais' father was among the poorest. He still earned his living as a bootblack in La Rochelle; the boy's mother had worked as a fishmonger on the docks. A Walloon refugee had brought the talented child to the attention of the Rohan family.

To Dumais, he sent an alarm and a warning.

I am preparing to withdraw from my present location-probably to Geneva, but possibly to Besancon-not feeling myself secure any longer in either the Grisons or Sondrio. Richelieu is of a suspicious nature and wary of my enduring friendship with Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. In spite of the repeated entreaties of the duchess, he refuses absolutely to permit me to return to Venice. Still, never doubting the justice of the Protestant cause, I continue to act in the assured belief that God has predestined me to save his churches, wherefore I will not lose my composure in the face of the greatest adversity.

Have a care. Michel Ducos is a dangerous man and I am having you play a dangerous game for us. Do not become overconfident. Always prepare for a fall when fortune puffs you up, for it is then that peril comes closest.

For the time being, you can reach me through Soubise in Frankfurt; should you hear that he has left the city, through de Ron.

Chapter 31

Grantville, December 1634

"I hadn't expected Lannie to crash the damned plane."

Victor Saluzzo, elbows on his desk, steepled his fingers. That was pretty much a picture-book perfect Concerned Principal's pose.

"Well, I hadn't. This time it's not my fault that I missed a bunch of school." Denise Beasley stuck her chin out and looked at her father Buster for support.

She hated parent-teacher conferences. Especially when they involved the principal. And the guidance counselor. And…

She looked across the room. The police.

Not that Preston Richards hadn't been pretty reasonable, but he was still the police.

"I expected that we'd fly down there, following the Saale, try to spot where the defectors were, turn around, and come back. I expected to be here for school the next morning. Honest, I did."

Honest, she hadn't. She hadn't thought about school at all. But that didn't seem to be quite the thing to say, right here and right now.

"They're giving her a hard time at school."

Saluzzo raised his eyebrows at Buster.

"Lots of hassling, needling, teasing. Even some significantly nasty threats. She's handled it pretty maturely, I think, for a sixteen-year-old."

Buster could play the game, if he had to. Denise hadn't killed any of the creeps. Or even done them significant bodily damage.

"Unfortunately," Joe Pallavicino said, "it isn't the first time that she has missed a block of school." Or the second, or even the fifth, but it didn't seem he was inclined to bring that up unless he had to. "I've been thinking that, perhaps, a mentoring program…"

Denise didn't stick her tongue out, and gave herself points.

"I have spoken to some of Denise's friends…"

Denise frowned. She didn't have any friends, except for Minnie.

"Tom Stone's youngest boy…"

Denise's forehead smoothed out. Yeah. Gerry actually was her friend. Unfortunately, he was going to school in Rudolstadt this year. Boarding over there.

"… spoke to his brother. Ron suggested…" Pallavicino looked at Buster. "… since they already know one another, that perhaps Missy Jenkins and Pam Hardesty would be willing to act as big sisters for Denise and Minnie. On a more formal basis."

Denise nodded. That wouldn't be so bad. She liked Missy.

"… with some adult supervision, of course."

That didn't sound so good.

"So Gerry talked to Pastor Kastenmayer's wife…"

Denise grinned. The mental picture of the redoubtable Salome Piscatora dancing in seven veils to get Herod to chop off John the Baptist's head had amused and occupied her mind through several tedious visits to St. Martin's in the Fields in the company of Gerry and Minnie. Even if Frau Kastenmayer did insist she was named for another Salome, the one who had stood at the foot of the cross. She jerked her mind back to this… hearing.

"… who suggested that, in the interest of cross-cultural understanding, it might be best if one of the adult mentors was an up-timer and the other a down-timer."

Principal Saluzzo was nodding.

"I am happy to say that Mrs. Wiley and Mrs. Dreeson have agreed."

Denise stared at him, horror dawning upon her face.

Buster was grinning.

Daddy had known about this. The traitor. Denise resigned herself to her fate. Until she could figure some way to wiggle out of it.

***

"I suppose it's consular work, in a way." Wes Jenkins looked a little dubious. "The mission of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the way it's written, is to assist SoTF citizens when they run into difficulties outside our borders. Jarvis Beasley's wife is clearly inside our borders."

"Physically," Henry Dreeson said. "She's here, all right."

"Jurisdictionally, then," Wes went on imperturbably, "the first question to resolve is whether or not Hedy Beasley's problems count as being outside our borders. Physically, as you say, she is here. Geographically, her home village is certainly inside the borders of the SoTF. Now. On the other hand, when she was born in that same place, she was undoubtedly born as a citizen of Saxony. Then."

"Has she ever been naturalized?" Noelle Stull asked.

"Naturalized?" Wes blinked.

"Yeah, like we set up for refugees coming into the RoF, way back when."

"So long ago," Dreeson said. "Not yet four years and it's 'way back when.' "

"No, no, pay attention." Noelle jumped up. "I'm thinking, guys. I was working for Deborah Trout back then. I know we've sort of lost focus on it since, what with annexations, like up around Remda, and places like Badenburg voluntarily joining, and then the whole Franconia thing. The only naturalizations I see listed in the Times these days are real foreigners."

"And a 'real' foreigner is…?" Eddie Junker raised an eyebrow.

"Drat it, Eddie. Behave yourself. You know what I mean. Walloons or Poles or-"

"Hungarians." He gave her a teasing smile.

"Not people from the USE. Definitely not people from the rest of the SoTF. But Saxony's backed out of being part of the USE. That means that if John George's delegate is right, and Hedy's actually Saxon, not just born in a piece of the SoTF south of the Thuringerwald where Saxony has administrative jurisdiction, I mean-"

Noelle stopped before her grammar got into a hopeless tangle; then started fresh. "If those old laws are still on the books…" She looked at Wes. "Those old laws are still on the books, aren't they? Nobody's taken them off in a fit of efficiency?"

"As far as I know, they're still on the books." Wes picked up the phone. "Let me check with Maurice Tito."

"Well, if they are, let's just naturalize her. Problem solved. Or, at least, we turn her into 'entirely our problem' instead of 'partly their problem.' Don't we? What do you think, Mr. Dreeson. Saxony couldn't extradite a citizen of West Virginia County, could it?"

"Those naturalization laws were written when the NUS was a country of its own. They may still be on the books, but… I'm not actually sure that a county can naturalize somebody."

"Then why are we still naturalizing Walloons, and Poles, and-"

"-and the occasional passing Hungarian?" Eddie raised up the arm with a cast on it. "Hey, no fair attacking an injured man. Injured in the course of duty, no less. Noelle! "

Wes looked up from the phone. "Hey, kids. Cut that out. This is a government office and you are both civil servants. Not a couple of first graders squabbling on the playground."

"I thought it was a fair enough question. Why are we still doing naturalizations, Maurice?" Henry Dreeson picked up a cup of coffee. "Thanks, Missy."

"The sheer force of inertia, I suppose. We were doing them and nobody thought to challenge it. I did call the Genealogy Club last night. They had some pamphlets about the history of naturalization. Put out for people to use who were looking up their ancestors, trying to figure out where they came from before they stepped off the boat. In the nineteenth century, in the back-time of the up-time so to speak, American naturalizations did run through the state courts and sometimes even the county courts. Not the federal courts. So we could claim precedent."

"So we could go ahead and naturalize her," Chad Jenkins said. "Just not as a NUS citizen or a SoTF citizen or a Grantville citizen or a West Virginia County citizen, but as a USE citizen."

"It could work," Maurice Tito said. "Maybe. Since Parliament hasn't gotten around to passing any nationwide citizenship law. At the very least, that little village down in Henneberg would have to appeal it to the SoTF Supreme Court, for a judgment as to whether one county in the SoTF can naturalize someone born in another county in the SoTF. And, I suppose, once that decision came down, someone could appeal to the Reichsgericht in Wetzlar. It would eventually issue a decision. If it decided that it had jurisdiction, of course."

Tom Riddle sipped his glass of wine. "By which time Hedy and Jarvis will have grandchildren playing around their feet."

"Assuming that I get elected," Chad asked, "should I try at least to introduce statewide legislation, do you think? Get every county and county-equivalent in the SoTF on the same page when it comes to the question of what's a valid marriage? Or do you think that parliament ought to do it? Ed, since as president you're automatically the SoTF member in the Chamber of Princes, would you be introducing it there?"

Tom Riddle shook his head. "Matrimonial legislation was a state matter up-time. No telling how the Crown Loyalists in parliament would weigh in on it. Personally, I don't want to see the USE over-centralize. The SoTF congress would be a better place to handle it. In my humble opinion, of course.

"Citizenship should, probably, eventually, end up being in parliament's hands. When they get around to it. Which won't be before the election, certainly. It's not even in session. Everybody's out campaigning. But Ed could introduce citizenship legislation. Probably should. We need to produce a draft we'd be happy with."

Ed Piazza shifted in his chair. "Maybe we ought to let Wes look into this for a while before we make up our minds about introducing marriage legislation in the SoTF congress, even. Make sure that we have a majority of the delegates who see it our way. It could take a considerable amount of logrolling to be sure of coming up with the kind of statute we can live with. Or want to live with."

Henry Dreeson nodded. "Sometimes it really is smarter to let sleeping dogs lie. But as for Hedy, specifically. Yep. She's been living here plenty long to meet the residency requirements we put on the books. Get Noelle to give her the little citizenship class. I'll administer the oath of allegiance myself. Take that, John George!"

Henry Dreeson sighed. Thea hadn't made it to the hospital. She'd produced her baby in the back downstairs bedroom of his house, which she and her husband Nicolas were still occupying, not having been able to find an apartment they could afford.

She'd probably dragged her feet deliberately, waiting till it was too late to leave the house even when the hospital was just a few blocks away, not telling anybody. Down-time women didn't like to go to Leahy Medical Center to have their babies. They wanted to have them at home, with midwives. That was probably just as well in a way. Given the size of Grantville these days, if all the women wanted to have their babies in the hospital with up-time physicians officiating, the deliveries would spill over into the parking lot and the town's three doctors would be working nonstop.

It caused a bit of tension, sometimes, between the doctors and the German midwives. Sometimes even between the doctors and the nurse-midwives whom Beulah McDonald was training. Maybe he ought to talk to Kortney Pence, and Beulah the next time she came up from Jena

He brought his mind back to the tension right here. Nicolas was hovering next to Dorothea.

On one side of the bed, the Reverend Enoch Wiley for the Calvinists. On the other side of the bed, Father Athanasius Kircher for the Catholics. In this corner, wearing a black suit; in the opposite corner, wearing a clerical collar…

He'd married Nicolas Moser and Dorothea Richter himself, at city hall, to avoid the question of which kind of church ceremony they might have to pick between, so to speak.

He didn't think that even Grantville had a provision for anything you might call civil baptism.

The way things were starting to sound, it might be a useful idea, though. He could suggest it to the county board. Maybe Jenny Maddox could do them at the funeral home. The chapel there was pretty nondenominational.

A sort of generic baptism for those who wanted it, not committing the baby to anything specific in the long run. It could be filed with the birth certificate instead of in a church. That would be convenient, since the Bureau of Vital Statistics was still in the funeral home.

Enoch advanced, defending the ecclesiastical allegiance of the father; Kircher countered, championing the faith of the mother.

The proud parents were doing their best to bury their heads in the sand. Dorothea, literally, her head in the pillow. They didn't deal with problems like this very well.

Maybe it wasn't the sort of thing that he really needed to run by the county board. He left the room, picked up the phone, and called Jenny.

Mike Stearns and the "total separation of church and state" radicals in the CoC might want to haul him in front of a firing squad for this. At a minimum, there would be a lively controversy in the newspapers after it was announced. But Mike was in Magdeburg these days, and the CoC didn't have the responsibility for keeping life in Grantville on an even keel.

"Thea's worn out," he said firmly. "I don't want to be inhospitable, but everybody except Nicol ought to get out of the room. There's coffee and cookies in the living room. Then, the rest of you, go home. She doesn't need this right now."

"He didn't," Chad Jenkins said.

"He did," Ed Piazza answered. "Right after supper, once he'd gotten rid of the rest of them, Henry had Ronnie bring a basin of water in from the kitchen and he baptized the baby himself."

"Oh, Lord."

"It's a valid baptism. I've checked with everyone. Kircher, Kastenmayer, Jones, Wiley. All the ministers agree. Well, not Green, or old Joe Jenkins, of course, but that's only because they don't believe in infant baptism at all and insist on total immersion of adults. She wasn't even a day old and Henry just dribbled some water on her forehead. The rest of them, though, except the Baptists, figure that the kid is now a properly saved Christian until such time as she reaches the age of reason. That gives Nicol and Thea another, oh, seven to ten years to decide which direction she's going, ecclesiastically speaking. He named her, too, while he was at it, since Nicol and Thea couldn't agree on a name, either.

"What did he pick?"

"Anna Elisabetha. For Annalise. He said that Annalise deserved a tribute, the way she bore up under everything last summer."

Chad picked up his notebook. "Well, let's start laying out how we're going to play it as far as the campaign is concerned. Annalise was a good idea for a name, because we can bring in Hans… At least Henry doesn't have any significant opposition. The Crown Loyalists, the few we have locally, thought they ought to run someone. Their caucus picked a down-timer, a guy named Hartmuth Frisch. He's a friend of Tino Nobili and already on the county board, but he's mostly known in town as Count August von Sommersburg's factor. Henry should win in a walk, even if he has introduced 'civil baptism' sort of off the top of his head."

Henry Dreeson pursed his lips and wished for the nine hundred ninety-ninth time in the past five hours-which was how long this county board meeting had been dragging on-that sixteen fewer people had voted for Tino Nobili. Or seventeen more people had come to the polls and voted for Orval McIntire. Or some combination of the above that would have kept Tino out of office.

Henry was still the mayor, but it wasn't a city council, any more. It was a county board, now. When the SoTF went to the county system, they'd decided that the make-do of a slightly expanded Grantville city council being the governing body of the whole RoF circle plus everything it had annexed since 1631 had to be scrapped. So they'd scrapped it and turned the whole area into an urban county. He was still the mayor. Partly because he'd been the mayor to start with. Partly because the down-timers had a good grasp on what a mayor did and hanging on to the familiar, when you could, wasn't a bad idea. So instead of mayor/council or chairman/board, they had a mayor/board system now.

For which Tino ran. And won. And just at this moment sat in a chair at the other end of the table. Bringing as many complications with him as the vain little Maizie bird in Dr. Seuss had stuck artificial feathers in her tail to make herself prettier. Till she had so many that they overbalanced her.

The time when Tino's pretensions overbalanced him and he fell flat on his face couldn't come too soon. Right now… Well, it got complicated. What happened to having a world in which you could tell your players if you did have a scorecard. It was getting to the point that a man needed a cat's cradle with diagrams on it to figure out the way things worked.

Some ways, Tino was a good guy. A family man. Hospitable. The daughter of that Italian artist woman who'd come into town with Simon Jones and the Stone boys had been staying with them for quite a while, and the girl was going to marry Pete McDougal's son.

Pete was Fourth of July Party, of course. Good friend of Mike Stearns. Which you'd think might tilt things one way.

But politically, on the board, Tino had hooked up with Hartmuth Frisch, who was running for mayor.

Now Frisch, you'd think, wouldn't be running on the other ticket. Not in a logical world. He came from the Palatinate-the one over by the Rhine, not the one over by Bohemia. A pretty reasonable man. He'd come into town at the end of a long, long, trip that had taken him all over the northern half of Germany, following the trail of his dead brother and trying to track his kids. Found them here, adopted by Orval and Karin McIntire a couple years before he caught up with them. Hadn't made a fuss-Orv and Karin were Presbyterian, Calvinists like Frisch was, and the kids were happy. A lot happier than they would have been spending those years in an orphanage, somewhere. Frisch was a widower; he was happy just to be an uncle. He'd taken a job as a factor for Count August von Sommersburg's slate quarries. Good businessman. Ed's friend Cavriani had brought his daughter Idelette to town; she was living with Enoch and Inez Wiley and working for the guy.

Sommersburg was Mike's ally; Orv was Mike's ally; Cavriani… well, he was friends with Ed Piazza and Ronnie liked him fine.

So you'd think maybe that Frisch would join the Fourth of July Party.

Naaaah!

Frisch didn't usually say much, himself. He didn't need to. He had Tino, who was willing to say it all. Tino was a really conservative sort of Catholic. He thought that what Henry had done when he baptized Thea's baby was an awful thing. Frisch was a really conservative sort of Calvinist. He thought that what Henry had done when he baptized Nicol's baby was an awful thing.

It was the same baby, of course. They seemed to forget that, from time to time.

The only thing that ever shut Tino up was an emergency at the pharmacy. Then he forgot all about strutting in his artificial peacock plumage and dashed off to do what he did best.

That was probably why Henry hadn't ever strangled him.

Chapter 32

Grantville

"So that's what we did, Daddy," Denise said.

Buster looked at her, twisting his thin reddish beard around in his fingers.

"Keenan Murphy, you said?"

"He was one of them. Egging the rest of them on, for the first part of it."

"I thought ol' Keenan had been playing the hero lately. Chasing down Francis when he shot at Dennis Stull. Chasing after Noelle when those guys grabbed her."

"He's not a hero, Daddy. He's not a villain, either. Mostly he's just dumb. He chased down Francis because his grandma told him to and chased after Noelle because they have the same mother. But he's dumb. Most of his friends are even dumber."

"Who else was with him? Names?"

"Mitchell Kovacs. Bubba."

"Not a surprise." Buster looked at his daughter. "Out with the rest of it."

"And Jermaine."

"Not a kids' fight, then."

"There were a couple of kids with them, I guess. Not kids the same age as Gerry and Minnie and me, though. Not fifteen or sixteen. More like eighteen or nineteen."

"Names." Buster was starting through his checklist.

"Bill Sanabria. Dustin Acton. I saw those two, at least. I didn't see Nino. He used to run with Bill, but he seems to have straightened out a lot since their mom married Ronnie Bawiec. So has Olivia."

"She's Pat's cousin," her mother Christin inserted into the conversation. "Bill's mom, that is. She's a cousin of Keenan and Noelle's mother. Fitzgeralds, both of them. That's how Bill connects to Keenan."

Buster let that pass, still focusing on Denise. "Arguments?"

"When we came out of Marcantonio's, the usual sort of thing," Denise said. "Gerry's home for a couple of weeks, for the holidays. Gerry Stone. Because he's going to school in Rudolstadt, they said he's 'going native.' Bill and Justin started to hassle him. Were hassling us, I should say, calling Minnie names too. Gordy Fritz and Dane Stevenson, Dane Junior, were with them to start with, but backed off right after it started, so they don't really count. We got out of it clean and wouldn't have bothered anyone else about it, except that Justin said something about 'another job at the fairgrounds' that Jermaine was doing. So we followed them."

"Carefully?"

"They never knew we were there."

"You're a pip."

"Jermaine and the others tried to corner Jarvis and Hedy when they were walking home from the laundry. While they were crossing the fairgrounds, by the community center, going over to the bridge, Jermaine came up to Jarvis and said something about Hedy."

"Tried to?"

"Jarvis had heard about the plan. He still has some friends who hang out at the 250 Club, even though Uncle Ken won't have him there any more since he married Hedy. So he had friends shadowing them, too. Enough to persuade the guys with Jermaine to stay out of it, so just the two of them fought. And that's why Jermaine and Jarvis had a fight last night."

"Who won?"

"A draw, more or less. Jarvis was pretty mad and gave Jermaine as good as he got. Except that in a way, Jarvis won, because Hedy got home okay. That was what they planned to do. Take Jarvis down and then take Hedy away and beat her up good. Try to make her lose the baby. Then they were going to take her back to where she came from, so she could be prosecuted for being a bigamist for marrying Jarvis. And in the election campaign, say that when Mayor Dreeson married the two of them, he knew she was a bigamist."

"So then you went to see your Uncle Ken?"

"Yeah. I thought it was a bit much. After all, Jarvis and Hedy's kid is going to be his grandchild."

"And that's what he said?"

"Ummhmmh. That he wished that they had beat her up. That he'd rather see her and the kid dead than have a half-Kraut grandchild."

"You know," Buster said, "I think Ken is going overboard. I'm going to have to cogitate on all this for a while."

"Okay. Then, after that, we went over to Benny's and wrote up a story about it all and we sent copies to all of the papers. That's what we did. Minnie and me. English and German, both. Naming names. Remains to be seen if they'll publish it. The Freie Presse probably won't, they're so righteous, but the Daily News probably will. And maybe Rodger Rude's column in the Times. I sure hope the National Inquisitor doesn't. That would ruin everything. Nobody else would believe a word of it." She picked up her jacket.

"Where are you going?"

"Over to see Eddie Junker. See how his arm's doing. With Minnie and Gerry. Then we're going to a play at the church-St. Martin's in the Fields." She zipped out the door of the trailer.

Buster looked after her blankly. "Church?"

"Gosh, Mom, sorry I'm late. Let me get a quick shower." Missy headed for the stairs.

"Where have you been?"

"Out at Lothlorien. Christmas Eve. Children's presents. Well, we also sang 'Happy Birthday' to Ron. Do you know that he's never actually had a birthday party in his life?"

The bathroom door slammed behind her.

It opened again. "Uh, he and Gerry are coming to dinner tomorrow, if I forgot to tell you before. I didn't even invite them for tonight. I was afraid that Christmas Eve at Gran's would be a bit much for them. Considering Thanksgiving. Anyway Gerry is going to a children's play out at St. Martin's. With Minnie Hugelmair and Denise Beasley. And Eddie Junker."

Another slam and the sound of rushing water.

Chad put his arm around Debbie. "Experience teaches us that she really can shower and dress in fifteen minutes."

She made it in thirteen, pulling a ski cap over her wet hair as she ran down the stairs. The three of them headed toward the family party.

"Is Ron going with Gerry?" Debbie asked.

"No. He's working evening shift in the lab so that a couple of other people who have kids in the play can go to it."

Then, apparently out of a clear blue sky, Missy added, "Ron looked up his birth certificate out at the high school. His mother's name was Mary Beth Shaw. Otherwise known as Dreamcatcher. It says that she was born in Illinois, for what it's worth."

Just before they got to Gran's, she added, "He says that's going to be it in the way of a family tree. Fairly shallow roots."

"Oh, well," Debbie said. "I'm sure that he actually has as many ancestors as anyone else. Everybody does, after all. It's unavoidable. He may not know who they were, but that's a different question."

"Oh! They are beautiful, Lenore. Really they are. Thank you so much."

Clara was looking at a set of framed drawings.

"I saw you yearning over the photos one day, Clara. It used to be easy to copy old ones, pretty much, but even if someone could figure out how to do it now and get the chemicals, it would probably cost the earth and the sky. But I've always had a knack for sketching, so.. ."

"I didn't even know you could do this, honey child," Wes said.

Lenore glanced over at her grandmother, who was sitting on the other side of the room talking to Uncle Chad and Chandra. They were looking at something else. She wiggled a little uncomfortably. "I got it from Gran, I suppose. She knew that I liked to draw, back when I was in school, but she never really encouraged me. Not the way she encouraged Chip to play violin, later on. The reverse, if anything. She sure made a fuss when I said once that I might like to go to a school of design rather than to a regular college. I found out later-a lot later-that she actually went over to the high school and asked my counselor to tell me that it was a bad idea, if I brought it up."

Now Wes looked across toward his mother, frowning.

Lenore didn't notice. "So don't make a big production about these, please. I sneaked over and made the sketches from the photos while she was out doing her Red Cross stuff, on the excuse that I was checking the tops of her cupboards and other stuff she can't really reach any more. She wanted to be sure the maid was cleaning them. 'Trust but verify.' "

"This, though…" Clara drew her index finger along some fine cross-hatching. This is not-not a 'knack' as you say. You have been taught. Did you apprentice with someone?"

"Well, I took college classes at Fairmont State off and on. Over six or seven years, I got about four semesters worth of classes in, I guess. None the first couple of years after I finished high school, but after that, since my schedule at work was pretty flexible, I took a couple of courses every now and then. And if I was on campus anyway for something I should take for work, like retailing or business applications, and there was an art class, or an art history class, available that day, I would take one." She looked a little defiant. "I was working and paying the tuition myself. It isn't as if I was wasting Dad's money."

"I'd have liked you to finish college," Wes said. "In anything. Underwater basket weaving would have been fine. I had a savings account for it in your name, ever since you were tiny." He laughed. "For that matter, it's still there in the bank if you ever need it. One for Chandra, too. I wouldn't have minded if you chose a design school. There were good ones, up-time. It wouldn't have been wasting anything."

"Yeah, I guess. But Gran said… well, that she had majored in art and then never used it, really. She said that only genius pays you back if you get a degree in art, not just a little flair like hers or mine. And Mom went along with her. She didn't think it was practical, even though commercial art actually pays pretty well if a person is good at it. I couldn't really see spending the money if I didn't know what I wanted to do with a degree when I got it. Not nursing, for sure. Not teaching. And getting a degree wouldn't have helped me advance at the store unless I wanted to sit in an office all day, which I didn't." Lenore reached over, took the sketches, and wrapped them back up. "Here. This will protect them while you're carrying them home."

The family was passing most of the presents around the room, so everyone could admire them. Lenore dropped the sketches down into Clara's tote bag. "Maybe it's one reason that I liked learning these seventeenth century handwriting styles so much." A wide smile suddenly lit up her long, thin face. "Some of them are so elaborate that they are almost like drawing the words more than writing them. Every letter or filing that came to my desk because no one else could read it was an adventure."

She looked toward the double doorway leading into the hallway. Bryant was standing there, scowling at them. Her smile faded.

"I like this bridge. I like the way it blows in the cold wind when there is snow coming like tonight."

"You are a risk taker at heart, considering how many packages we are carrying. All right, we'll cross on the suspension bridge."

In the middle of it, Clara stopped.

"Brr," Wes said.

"We have another present, Wesley. One more than we opened at your mother's house."

"Hmmn."

Clara turned around, putting down her bag and circling his neck with her arms. "You have given it to me. In less than half a year, I will give it back to you."

She kissed him. "We are going to have a baby. I am sure of it, now. I have felt movement and also Kortney Pence said so, yesterday morning. So we will have all three of the purposes of marriage."

"What three purposes of marriage?"

"Oh, Wesley. I am not trying to convert you, like the up-time men who are going to class with Pastor Kastenmayer at St. Martin's now to be confirmed next spring, but I do wish you would at least read the small catechism. Every Lutheran knows that there are three purposes of marriage."

"Which are?"

"The procreation of children, of course. Which now we are doing."

"That's one."

"Mutual companionship and support, which we also have already. And I will need to bring a cradle to the consular affairs office after the baby is born."

Wes didn't blink. He could live with a cradle in the consular affairs office. And, obviously, would.

"That's two. What's three?"

She smiled up at him. "The third is that it is a remedy for lust."

"I can endorse that. We have been polite to a lot of people all evening. Shall we go home and remedy something?" This time, he kissed her.

Clara was quite relieved to discover that he would not expect them to forego the third purpose of marriage between the time he was notified of her pregnancy and the time she weaned the child. Some men thought that way. Apprehension about this possibility was one reason she had put off telling him about the baby as long as she reasonably could. So she happily kissed him back, for quite some time, in spite of the stiff wind that was blowing down Buffalo Creek.

"Is that actually your father and his Kraut woman making out on the suspension bridge, right in the middle of town?" Bryant Holloway asked.

"Looks like Dad and Clara to me."

"You weren't sucking up to her tonight, were you? Not a bit, of course. Insinuating yourself. Currying a little favor?"

"I like Clara. She's nice. She's nice to us. Really. She goes out of her way."

Bryant was looking at the couple on the bridge. "They should be ashamed of themselves."

"All they're doing is kissing each other." Lenore protested. "Wearing a batch of winter clothes. And they are married."

"Barely in time, if the gossip that Lola picked up is true."

"What gossip?"

"She went in to Leahy Medical to find out if she's pregnant."

"Pregnant?"

"What did you expect, the way they…"

"Act like married people in love? Clara turned thirty-eight a couple of weeks ago. We had a birthday party for her. You weren't back yet. If you really want to know, then-yeah, Chandra and I have been sort of expecting that a half-sister or half-brother would turn up one of these days. Or both. Or more, if they manage to squeeze them in."

She laughed. "I've got to grant that they've apparently been pretty efficient about it, though. I suppose we'll get the news officially in a day or so."

"I don't like that tone of voice. You're talking back. Again. You're getting to be more and more like your sister."

"What's Chandra ever done to you?"

"She spent at least an hour this evening trying to get me to talk about what Nathan has been doing in Frankfurt and quizzing me about why he decided not to come to Grantville for a visit. If he thought it was any of her business, he would tell her himself. And nagging me to tell her why he doesn't want her to go with him. He's given her his reasons, and that's actually more than she deserves. If he doesn't want her to come, then she should do as he wants and stay here without all this griping."

Lenore stopped walking. "Since when doesn't a wife deserve to know her husband's reasons for how he treats her?"

Bryant turned toward her.

She pushed the baby stroller so that it was between them. "We'd better get Weshelle home. I have her all covered up, but this wind is chilly."

Chapter 33

Grantville

"Because I don't really want to be at home, Veda Mae, if you want me to be brutal about it. Every time I turn around, I see another German, and not a servant, either. What is it about Lenore's family? They collect Krauts like cat hair on your best dress slacks." Bryant Holloway finished off his coffee. "At least Nathan Prickett had the sense not to come home for the holidays."

"You're acting like a fool about Lenore, Bryant," said Trent Dorrman.

Bryant glared at the other man sitting at the table. Brother Green had sicced Dorrman onto him. He hadn't gone to church, so Green had come around knocking on the door, saying that he hadn't been at services for a while. The pompous Reverend Doctor Albert Green.

Blasted preachers, wanting guys to come in for counseling, and then when he had refused, this "peer counseling by laymen" stuff. He'd been stuck with Dorrman all vacation. What did Dorrman know about marriage? He'd been divorced for years before the Ring of Fire and remarried even less time than he'd been married to Lenore himself.

Bryant said as much.

Dorrman spoke very softly. "I think that Brother Green thought that maybe I'm a little smarter for the experience of living through a broken marriage once. I count myself lucky to have Caroline. For a guy like me, it was sort of like hitting the jackpot. I don't intend to make the same mistakes again." He smiled. "New ones, maybe, considering that I'm a human being. But not the same ones."

"You're on a collision course, Dorrman," Veda Mae predicted. "She's got more education than you, just the way your first wife did. History repeating itself. The way Laurie tried to do to Gary. The way Lenore has more than Bryant. Mark my words, it's a recipe for disaster."

Dorrman looked at her. " 'I'm proud of my wife and her accomplishments.' That's a place to start. That was my first resolution, this time, after she said she would marry me. To be proud of Caroline. Not to try to put her down or pull her down. To do a better job of understanding her interests than I did with Pam."

"Then go home and drool over her for a while, but leave me alone." Bryant had his suspicions about Caroline Jones. Caroline Dorrman, she should be now, but since the Ring of Fire, the women weren't changing their names when they got married because the Krauts didn't do it.

Jenny Maddox and those uppity women in the genealogy club were at fault, too. They said it was easier to keep track of people if they kept the same names. Lenore, though some people called her Mrs. Holloway, was still signing stuff as "Lenore Jenkins." If he was looking over her shoulder, she would add "(now Holloway)."

Maybe Caroline had put her uncle Simon Jones up to putting Brother Green up to this counseling stuff, somehow. Through the blasted Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance or something. She was almost exactly the same age as Lenore and they were friends. Methodist Sunday school together and all that. Maybe Lenore had been tattling. If so, she'd regret it. Whether Lenore had been telling tales out of school or not, Caroline was probably meddling.

He turned back to Veda Mae. "And I'm between assignments. Hell, I'm supposed to be on vacation for two weeks, between finishing in Frankfurt and going back to Magdeburg. Steve Matheny said that he didn't want to see my face at the fire department the whole time, so I don't have any place else to go except home or to my sister Lola's and she's working. 'Relax,' says the chief, 'relax, relax.' "

"You should talk to Jacques-Pierre Dumais. You really should. Even if you don't drink, you can talk to him at the 250 Club. Ken Beasley doesn't like him a lot. He calls his corner the "dry table" and complains that he loses money on it. But that would give you someplace to be, evenings at least, where you can get away from Lenore."

"I talked to him a couple of times last fall."

"Well, talk to him again."

That was all he needed, Bryant thought. Another lay peer counselor.

Trent Dorrman looked at Holloway, frowning. Brother Green was probably right to be worried about him. There had been some kind of meeting that Brother Green had attended, with Mayor Dreeson and Steve Matheny, the fire department chief. About stress problems. That was when Brother Green decided to train lay peer counselors.

He'd taken apart an old fashioned alarm clock once, when he was a kid. After he had the back off, he'd taken the key and wound the spring inside so tight that it snapped. He hoped Bryant Holloway wasn't getting to that stage.

Scotland

"I agree. There's no direct connection with our greater purpose." Andre Tourneau gestured at Antoine Delerue.

His fellow silk weaver, Abraham Levasseur, made a calming gesture. "Guillaume is getting impatient, Andre. Here, we are planning. Focusing. Preparing various projects, such as the one we have already given to Abraham Levasseur. In Frankfurt, he and the others are merely waiting. These little enterprises will occupy their minds and give them something to do."

"I disagree." Delerue waved one hand at the report that had just come in. "They are only using the demonstrations as excuses to not make any real effort to carry out the assassinations we ordered. A piddling attack on a hospital. A minor action against a synagogue. What is the point?"

Ducos chimed in, very forcefully. "I don't intend to let them lose sight of the ultimate purpose. Reiterate my instructions to Guillaume. Between the election and the transfer of power. No matter who wins the election, Stearns or Wettin. Think-the emperor, Stearns, and Wettin dead. All that welds these Germanies together gone. With Kristina dead, the new union of Kalmar, fragile enough at the best of times, will be broken. There is no other obvious heir in Sweden, either, so Oxenstierna and Brahe will be pulled out of Germany to handle civil strife and two generations of attempts by the Vasas to build a centralized kingdom will collapse. Poland will intervene, again. Which will tempt Russia to send another tentacle toward Poland. Which will distract both Wallenstein and Ferdinand III, opening a gate for the Ottomans."

Ducos sat back, in happy contemplation of the impending chaos. Armageddon would be welcome, if that was what it took to remove Richelieu from his post.

If only the lever he needed to move the world proved adequate to the task.

"Again, Antoine. Repeat my instructions in your reply. Remind them again. All five. On the same day. In the same place. As soon as possible after the election."

"Guillaume has brought up the difficulty of getting them all in the same place at the same time. Not to mention security."

Michel Ducos narrowed his eyes. "Guillaume, too, is a tool in the hand of God. I have seen a vision. He has done better, perhaps, than he believes. These demonstrations that he is planning-minor in themselves, just as you say-will occur in Grantville. If they should turn out not to be so minor? If the consequences of these actions should become greater? All five of our real targets might, by some happy chance, gather in Grantville itself. Leaving, necessarily, most of their excessive security apparatus behind."

Delerue clasped his hands behind his head. "I read the newspapers, too. On this 'Thanksgiving' festival, Stearns and his wife went to Grantville by plane. Leaving the sturdy Yeoman Warders behind in Magdeburg. Accompanied, the whole time they were in the town, only by a few soldiers from the SoTF forces who met them at the air field with a single truck. Standing for a period of time, quite out in the open, on the sidewalk in front of his house."

Ducos nodded. "An invitation, Antoine. A clear sign. An indication of the will of divine providence."

Grantville

What they called the "dry table" at the 250 Club wasn't exactly dry. That just turned out to be Ken Beasley's description for wine instead of 'shine or beer. The people who sat there seemed to spend a lot of time talking politics.

"I'm not going to vote for Wettin. No way." Bryant Holloway wasn't yelling, but his voice didn't give any hint of flexibility.

Dumais had received instructions directly from Rohan and from Locquifier via de Ron through Mauger to make contact with the up-time firefighter as soon as he returned from Frankfurt. For, of course, different reasons.

"Ah, but why, then? Although you oppose Stearns, you do not support his opponent?"

"Because Wettin is one more goddamned Kraut, Dumais. Surely you can figure that out for yourself. We're overrun with them. This stupid Stearns immigration policy. Come one, come all. Stay a while, take an oath of allegiance, and 'presto, you're a citizen now.' No standards at all. Good God, considering how long you've been working here, all you would have to do yourself would be walk down to the administration building, enroll in their little class, and bingo!"

Jacques-Pierre looked at Holloway consideringly. This was one aspect of his current assignment in Grantville that had not, for some reason, crossed his mind previously.

The man was steamrolling along. "Sure, Stearns is married to a Kraut, but at least he's an American himself. Wettin, even if he's changed his name, was born a Kraut nobleman and he's still a Kraut nobleman, no matter what he calls himself. He's married to another one. He's got a brother who is fighting us. He'd not be any improvement. Worse."

Dumais frowned. "Stearns is not married to a 'Kraut.' Rebecca Abrabanel is not a German. She is a Jewess. Her family was originally from Spain. She grew up in the Netherlands and England."

"I don't give a damn whether she's Jewish or not. I haven't met a half dozen Jews in all my life. Hell, except for the Roths, I've never actually met any as far as I know, and I don't have anything against Morris and Judith. Their boy was five years or so younger than me, so I didn't know the kids well, but they were perfectly ordinary people. Spoke English, went hunting. Americans, if you know what I mean. Not foreigners."

Jacques-Pierre pondered the matter. Mrs. Haggerty had, upon occasion, expressed similar ideas. Most of these Grantvillers, even the most unpleasant such as those who frequented the 250 Club tavern, truly did not seem to care whether someone was Jewish or not. There were a few exceptions, such as the man named Cooper, but most of them did not.

In fact, he thought, although there were some tensions, most of them did not care whether a person was of any particular religious persuasion at all, which was somewhat unnerving.

They did, many of them, seem to care whether someone was "foreign" or not. This was something he would have to pass on to Rohan.

The question for even the most dissatisfied among the up-timers, apparently, was whether someone was… different… or not. It was something to think about. What caused enough difference between people for an up-timer to take notice of it and to resent it? Was there such a word as undifferent? It couldn't be "indifferent." That was a word in the English language, but it had another, quite distinct, meaning.

Difference. He had been allowed to learn a great deal-more, really, than he'd expected-in large part simply because he said that he wished to become like them. Take, for example, his acquaintance through the Genealogy Club with Mrs. Sandra Prickett, who also worked for the Bureau of Vital Statistics. She had been so willing to explain how things worked. And then to show him how to look things up.

Most of the up-timers probably would not want to act against the hospital, either. How many of the down-timers living inside the RoF would have absorbed that attitude?

As he reflected on what might make a person completely "undifferent" in this town, he continued chatting. "You are returning to Magdeburg next week?"

"I was supposed to be," said Holloway. "Now, though, it looks like I'll have to run some other errands for high-and-mighty Stannard on the way. Halle for a couple of weeks. Naumburg for a while. It could be the middle of February before I actually get there. In fact, I might have to come back here first for a while."

Jacques-Pierre looked at him for a minute. "Do you have any 'spare time' when you are in these cities for your work?"

"Usually, yeah."

"You do work with down-timers, don't you. Even though you do not enjoy it?"

"No way to get around it. Most of the fire companies outside of Grantville and Magdeburg are all-Kraut. There are millions and millions of them in this stupid country, even in this state it seems like, and nowhere near enough of us to go around."

"So you have contacts. Could I employ you in your spare time? I need to hire some men. Day laborers, casual workers. Strong men, physically. 'Toughs' are okay. Hooligans; thugs, as long as they will do what they are told in exchange for their pay. Could you ask around for me? Not too many from any one city. They would need to be in Grantville by the first of March. A commission for each successful hire?"

"What are the Garbage Guys up to now? You must have a contract for some kind of big project." Holloway waved his hand. "But that isn't any of my business. How much commission?"

PART SIX

January 1635

Winged with red lightning and impetuous rage

Chapter 34

Grantville

New Year's Day, 1635

"That was a pretty comprehensive defense of yourself for staying out all night with Ron on New Year's Eve, Missy," Chad Jenkins said. "Designed to drive your mother to maximum distraction, I'm sure."

"Then why are you laughing?"

"Because I was listening. Outside the door, but listening. That's a lot of what a salesman does. And through all of your pointing out that the two of you don't have to sneak around in hotel rooms or anything because Ron has a whole house at his disposal out at Lothlorien where you can do whatever you please in perfect comfort and have a kitchen in which to cook breakfast to boot… not once did you say that you actually were there."

Missy gave her father a lopsided smile.

"We were over at Pam's. Playing cards with her and Cory Joe. And a guy named Jean-Louis LaChapelle, who is a nephew of the man that Velma Hardesty married. He's really a student at the University of Leiden. If this was back home, we'd say that he was a hard science major, I guess, with a sideline in engineering. They're not as specialized here as majors were at Fairmont State or WVU. He's in town on business for his uncle and also learning what he can while he's here. He's been here several weeks and took the 'how to use a research library' training that we give out at the state library. Very, very, French, for a Calvinist who was born and grew up in the Netherlands. All charm. 'Oozing charm from every pore,' like the song said."

"How does this involve Pam?"

"Good grief, Dad. Naturally, he looked up the family of his new aunt-by-marriage. The first time this Jean-Louis saw that tow-blonde hair on top of Pam's head, he went into meltdown. Also, she's in charge of the circulation desk at the State Library now and sometimes she gives the class. She taught the section he took, so when he found out that she works there, it gave him a doubled and redoubled reason to haunt the place."

"Is she flattered?"

"Part of her wants to melt back; part of her doesn't want to get a reputation like Velma's. The rest of her, which doesn't ever want to see Velma again, which she would probably have to if she got involved with her stepfather's nephew, is trying to referee. So until she decides what to do, the one thing she's absolutely sure of is that even though she wants to be with him, she doesn't want to be alone with him. So Ron and I told her that we'd play backup. That was before she knew Cory Joe would be here. His schedule between Grantville and Magdeburg is pretty irregular. Anyway, you can't play cards with three people, and Cory Joe didn't have a date."

She turned her head to the hall. "And you might as well come back in, Mom. I know you're there."

Debbie came back, having the grace to look a little ashamed. "Um. Is Cory Joe doing well in the army up in Magdeburg?"

"Cory Joe is on General Jackson's immediate staff and serving as his personal liaison to Don Francisco Nasi."

That stopped the conversation temporarily.

"Look, Mom. He'll be twenty-five in another couple of weeks. Pam splurged on a whole cup of sugar and is going to bake a little half-sized cake for him and Susan-her birthday was in December-before he goes back to Magdeburg. I wonder when someone will reinvent powdered sugar so we can have frosting again. We're growing up. All of us. Time didn't stop when the Ring of Fire happened. That's something you've got to face. If we were back home in West Virginia, I'd be away from home, half way through my first year of college."

Missy stopped, then started again. "And about Ron… This is important for you."

Her mother looked at her.

"He isn't going to go away. No matter what happens between him and me. If anything ever does. Ron and Bill…"

"Bill?"

"Bill Hudson. Remember Bill? My cousin Bill? Your nephew Bill?"

Debbie nodded.

"While he was fighting that diphtheria epidemic down at Amberg last summer, he decided that when he got out of the army, he was going to work for Ron's dad. That it was more important in the long run to make the medicines that doctors can use than to be a doctor himself. Uncle Ray wasn't too pleased at first-he'd thought that Bill would go to the new medical school in Jena once he got out of the army, since he'd already gone as far as EMT.

"But now they've settled it that Ron and Bill, along with Reichhard Hartmann from Oberweissbach, will be setting up a subsidiary of the pharmaceuticals side. Right now, until they draw up formal papers, they're calling it 'Whatever Works.' I'm not sure exactly why-it goes back to something Tom Stone said, I think. Not just to reconstitute up-time drugs, but to figure out what can be developed from what people use here, down-time. Maybe, using modern analytical methods, come up with things derived from herbals that we didn't have before the Ring of Fire. The point is that Ron and Bill are going to be business partners, which means that Ron is going to be a sort of, um, permanent fixture as far as the family is concerned. Your side, the Hudson side, at least, no matter what Nani thinks about it. You might as well get to know him."

Ron walked down the front steps of Missy's porch. He knew that he could wait until tomorrow. There wasn't any special reason that he needed to tell someone this today rather than tomorrow, he expected. Mr. Jenkins' office wouldn't be open. It was probably not the right place, anyway. He was in charge of Consular Affairs, after all-Grantvillers abroad, not foreigners in Grantville. Otherwise, though, he wasn't sure even who was in charge of that stuff since Mr. Bellamy took a job in Magdeburg. He couldn't quite take it directly to Mr. Piazza.

Cory Joe would tell Don Francisco, but he'd be looking at things from the Magdeburg perspective. Broad brush, so to speak. That wasn't quite the same thing as local developments.

And if Ron waited until tomorrow, he'd have to make a special trip back into town from Lothlorien. Or try to explain it on the phone, which never seemed to work for him quite as well as face to face. Or try to explain it on the phone to some functionary who was trying to prevent cracked nuts from using up an important person's time.

So. He walked up to Missy's uncle's house and knocked on the door.

Wes Jenkins opened it himself. He smiled in a friendly enough way. In fact, he looked like he was in a really good mood. That was always better than catching a man in a bad mood. Not to mention, he seemed awfully wide awake for this early in the morning on New Years Day.

Mrs. Jenkins seemed like she was in a good mood, too. Also wide awake. And she worked at the same office, so it ought to be all right to say everything in front of her.

Ron started talking. It was amazing how much a man could say during a whole night of playing cards. Particularly a man who was not entirely and totally all there because of a head of blonde hair. Particularly a man who was trying to impress that head of blonde hair with his family's connections and influence.

A man who apparently didn't have the vaguest idea that the half-brother of the blonde hair was in military intelligence. That was interesting in itself.

It was surprising how much Jean-Louis LaChapelle had let drop in passing while they were playing cards the night before. How much Ron, in thinking back to Venice, had started to get the sensation of " deja vu all over again." People representing themselves as out of town Committee of Correspondence sympathizers trying to make contacts in Grantville. And…

"I've heard some of this at work, too, out at the plant. I just hadn't put it all together. Everything in Grantville isn't perfect. There are places, not just the 250 Club but other places, where up-timers and down-timers seem to rub one another the wrong way, sometimes. LaChapelle seems to know they're doing this. More of the 'who, what, when, where, and how' than I felt comfortable about, even though he didn't say anything to indicate that he's involved in it himself. Especially considering who he is."

"Who?"

Wes obviously didn't know. Well, there wasn't any obvious connection between the two names.

"LaChapelle is the nephew of the man who married Pam's mother. Velma Hardesty. That guy was-well, is, he's alive and well somewhere in the Netherlands, Haarlem I think-thick as thieves with this Jacques-Pierre Dumais. They spent a lot of time together while he was in town. And Dumais… Mr. Jenkins, I really don't want to say something stupid."

"Say it." Wes smiled. "As I recall, I thought your view of my mother's gravy boat was a pretty fair assessment of the item."

"Dumais makes a big thing about being Huguenot. It's one of the cards he plays, locally. 'I'm your heroic Protestant type Frenchman, no lackey of that evil Cardinal Richelieu.' The other, for the 250 Club people, is, 'I'm no Kraut,' which isn't quite the same thing. But in Rome, Ducos and those people who tried to assassinate the pope-they were Huguenots. And they were manipulating other people to do their dirty work. That included the Committee of Correspondence people in Venice."

Wes looked a little blank. He had had other things on his mind during the period of the embassy to Venice.

"Uh. The Marcoli family. My brother Frank's in-laws." Ron frowned. He knew that he didn't have all the connections, so not all of this made sense. "Ducos got away. He has to have gone somewhere. He has to have connections, ways to get instructions to his people. I don't have a thing to tie LaChapelle and his uncle to Ducos. But they do tie to Dumais, at least Mauger does, and Dumais is manipulating other people to do his dirty work. I don't have anything to tie Dumais to Ducos, either. It's…"

"You don't have to have a full picture when you bring something in," Wes said. "Every piece of the puzzle helps. There's staff up in Magdeburg who spend all day, every day, trying to fit the pieces together."

"Nasi's people, I know. Thanks anyway," Ron said. "If it hadn't been for the gravy boat, I might have let the whole thing drop, or tried something really roundabout like writing to Father Gus, since he and Frank are pretty good friends, and hoping that he would show it to Father Mazzare-Cardinal Mazzare, I should say. But I thought, if you were interested, this might be faster."

"If a couple of other people are interested in this, is there anyplace in town I can catch you later today? I know it's a holiday. .."

"I was going back home. I suppose I could always go over and annoy Missy's parents by existing."

"I would not, if I were you." Clara said. "Debbie has already sent Missy to go to sleep and called me to complain."

"Go over to Ben Hardesty's," Wes suggested. "Cory Joe has already been in touch with Arnold Bellamy this morning, early. He's waiting at Ben's until we get a meeting set up. I'll swing by for the two of you when we've gotten in touch with everyone who should be sitting in on this. At least, everyone who doesn't have a hangover. The administration of the SoTF has at least a couple of officials who seem to have partied harder than the rest of them." He grinned. "Ed Piazza among them. We'll brief them tomorrow."

Ron blinked. The principal? Well, the president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia?

"He's Italian," Clara said gently. "There was red wine. Annabelle says that at least New Years Eve is not a wedding or a wake."

By a week or so later, it became clear that Bill Hudson was wasting an awful lot of time getting back and forth from Willie Ray's place to Lothlorien. Ron suggested that he might as well move in, since it didn't seem likely that his brother Frank would ever need his room there again.

They packed up the personal stuff that Frank had left behind when they left for Italy a year before into barrels and put those in a storeroom. Then they moved Bill's stuff with his father's team and wagon.

This involved meeting Bill's grandmother. Who was also Missy's other grandmother, the Hudson one, the one she called "Nani."

It was a sort of interesting experience. The kind of thing that made Ron glad that she had introduced him to her Jenkins grandmother first. That had to be saying something.

They were standing next to the wagon, waiting for someone to bring out another load of stuff on the dolly. She appeared and demanded fiercely, "Are you the young man who kissed Missy while she was riding a motorcycle last fall?"

Perhaps he shouldn't have answered, "Like this?" and demonstrated the procedure.

It certainly hadn't helped that Missy responded to the old lady's glare by throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him again. With considerably more verve.

Chapter 35

Grantville

"Good morning, Lenore. It's nice to have you back." Faye Andersen jumped up and gave her a hug. "We have an in-box waiting for you and can you work with Donella an hour or so every day? She's learning, but she hasn't had a chance to work in one of the down-time chanceries yet."

"Oh, Faye, it's so good to be back." Lenore leaned across the desk and gave the older woman a hug. "Hi, Linda Beth. Donella, I love your engagement ring. Catrina, oh golly, you have the baby right here. Isn't he a doll. I wish Bryant had let me do that after Weshelle was born. Where's Andrea? She said she still had some more forms for me to fill out."

"Meeting with the judges. You'll have to wait till that's over. Jon Villareal is our liaison with the consular service now. He's in the meeting, too. All okay at your end? No child care problems?"

"Great, Faye. Chandra is babysitting for Weshelle, so everything is smooth at home. Your problems must be nearly over by now."

"Sometimes I think they're worse when you have teenagers. Toddlers at least have the good grace to stay where you put them, so to speak, until you come back and pick them up again. Brandon and Hanna have so many activities now…"

"Are you on your own, again?" Linda Beth Rush asked.

"Bryant left for Magdeburg again the first thing this morning. He's got to make some stops on the way, though." Lenore grinned. "Give me some records to transcribe and I'll transcribe them."

"Back in the swing of things?" Chandra asked when Lenore knocked on the door to drop off Weshelle.

"Three days at work and it's as if I had never been gone."

"Did you eat breakfast?"

"You know me too well, Sis." Lenore laughed.

"Well, I'm hungry, and we have time. But I'm out of eggs. I've got to drop Mikey off anyway, and then Tom, so let's both walk downtown and stop at Cora's."

"When is she due?" Cora asked as she deposited the plates of buckwheat pancakes in front of them.

"Who?" Chandra broke a piece of hard bread in three pieces and gave one each to Lena Sue, Sandra Lou, and Weshelle to teethe on. She had dropped Mikey off at school on the way, but Tom was running around the table at a rate which made her yearn for the moment when St. Veronica's Academy would open its doors and receive him for the morning.

"Stop pretending you don't know who, Chandra. Your stepmother, of course."

"Um."

"When?"

"Late May."

"Didn't waste any time, did they?"

"Shoo, Cora." Chandra watched the proprietress head for another table, taking their coffee pot, and turned to her sister. "Cora Ennis has no shame at all."

"I think everyone in Grantville is asking the same question," Lenore answered. "And some of them are making bets on how long it took between the time they married themselves to each other and start of the pregnancy. I understand that the heavy money at the Thuringen Gardens is on fifteen minutes. The 250 Club types aren't conceding that the vows came first, on the grounds that German women are all whores." She blushed.

"Cut it out, Lenore. Why should you be sitting here blushing for Dad? We didn't have a thing to do with it."

"Except for your manipulating to send her over there in the first place. Let's hope for a week's margin. Early June."

"Kortney Pence gives them nine months to the day, and the story I heard from Mary Kathryn, who got it straight from Derek Utt, is that it was already well after dark when the kidnappers locked them into Ritter von Schlitz's pantry, so the money on 'fifteen minutes' may not be too far off the mark."

"Chandra! Stop it!"

"Oh, well. I guess I'd better write Nathan before he hears it from someone else. And you're going to be late for work if we don't get a move on."

Sandra Prickett, Nathan's mother, was happily demonstrating the workings of the Bureau of Vital Statistics filing system to an interested and admiring Jacques-Pierre Dumais. There really weren't a lot of people around who were interested in the nuts and bolts of how she spent her days. Since he mentioned that he had attended the wedding of Velma Hardesty to Laurent Mauger, she pulled out the master file card.

Jacques-Pierre looked at it with some interest for the content. Particularly the age of the bride. "It's accurate," Sandra said. "She's lived in this town all her life, so there wasn't any point in trying to fudge off a few years. I wouldn't put it past her, though, if she moves away."

His attention fixed on the meaning of the punched holes around the edges of each card.

"It's because we don't have computer systems available," Sandra answered. "Grantville wasn't maintaining its own vital statistics before the Ring of Fire. They were kept at state level. So when we set the bureau up, it was from scratch, and we did a system that was really old-fashioned back home. But it's one that any down-time office, all through what was the NUS, through Thuringia-Franconia, can maintain. We get the blank forms printed and manually punch the holes that code the data that is on each license and certificate. Each of the squares around the edge represents a specific fact."

She explained the retrieval system, saying that, for example, for statistical purposes, they could easily use this to track all up-timer/down-timer marriages, such as that between Velma and her husband. Returning the Mauger/Hardesty card to its place, she stuck her little wire rod through the cards in the drawer and pulled out all of the up-timer/down-timer marriages for the last four months, spreading them out on the table.

As it happened, this included the ceremony performed for Wesley Williams Jenkins and Clara Bachmeierin at the Methodist parsonage. The one that Jenny Maddox had filed personally and had not included in the weekly list sent to the newspaper.

Sandra picked it up and showed it to her guest specifically, simply because the ceremony had been performed by her brother Simon, with her sister-in-law Mary Ellen as one of the witnesses. "I've always been so proud of David and Simon," she explained. "My brothers were the first members of our family who ever went to college. Now David is a school administrator and Simon is a preacher."

"I'm sure that you are," Jacques-Pierre said in his oddly formal English. "Indeed, one thing that I have observed, here in Thuringia, that is not so true in France, is that many of the teachers and government officials in these small German principalities, also, are the first person in a family with a university education. Do you think it is possible that this similarity makes the cooperation between the up-timers and down-timers easier?"

This question obviously interested him. Sandra had never really thought about it, but she did her best to help him understand.

She thought that his request for a copy of the certificate, so he could study the way the system of punched holes around the edges worked, was presented almost as an afterthought.

As it happened, he wanted to study that, too. It seemed like something that would be useful for the record keeping system at Garbage Guys. Much of Jacques-Pierre's success was based on the fact that he really was interested in at least ninety percent of the topics that came up in his conversations with the residents of Grantville.

His conversations with the former Velma Hardesty excepted, of course.

"It's perfectly true," Veda Mae Haggerty said. "And him heading up that fancy initiative to make sure that all the marriages between Americans and Krauts are legal, too!"

"I knew it to start with," Willard Carson said. "I mean, I sure thought there was something funny about it."

"I don't really believe it," Lois Carson answered. "Nobody could have managed something like that."

"It was a regular coverup. Wes Jenkins and that Clara he calls his wife weren't married until they came back here in October. All hush-hush, because Wes is one of Mike Stearns' cronies, I suppose. Did anybody else count from Stearns' wedding to that Kraut Becky of his and when their daughter was born? I sure did." Veda Mae shook her head with righteous indignation.

"Do you know anything else?" Lois asked hopefully.

"Simon Jones did the wedding. Too bad it wasn't Mary Ellen; maybe we could have used it to undermine this female minister business. It was one of the United Methodist Church's biggest mistakes when that came in. She was one of the witnesses, though. Mary Ellen, I mean. Someone-I won't say who-found the copy of the marriage license in the Bureau of Vital Statistics files. Jenny Maddox signed as the other witness. She must have deliberately not included it in every week's listing of the licenses issued that the bureau sends out for the newspapers to publish, to make Wes Jenkins' Kraut slut look like a respectable woman."

Willard Carson said, "It's a conspiracy." His nose was quivering with excitement. "A real conspiracy, I tell you. Commies."

Veda Mae looked at him. "Get hold of yourself, Willard," she said firmly. She had her opinions, but she hadn't lost all grip on reality. "If there's anything that Wes Jenkins isn't, it's a Commie."

"But," Lois sputtered, "aren't all conspirators Commies?"

Veda Mae went back to the original topic. "Remember that I told you first. We've given a copy of the certificate to Roger Rude at the Grantville Times. It should be in the next issue of the paper. With a little highlighting, using that new color press that they're trying out."

Mary Ellen answered the first phone call. Then the second and the third. After that, she took the phone at the parsonage off the hook. So much for discretion.

Unfortunately, she couldn't leave it off permanently. They got too many calls that were really important. So she had to live through all the others that came in over the next week or so, because Willard Carson's conspiracy theory was generally taken up by the 250 Club types and then ricocheted all over town, which meant that nicer people kept calling up and asking her to say that it wasn't so.

She tried to explain, but the whole thing was complicated. Most Grantvillers didn't entertain themselves by reading comparative law. She reflected on everything that had been going on.

Wes went ballistic after he heard some of the insults to Clara's virtue that were being tossed around in the 250 Club. He insisted on publication of all the paperwork that followed the original marriage. Considering that the lawyer who was working for Andrea Hill over in Fulda, who had taken their affidavits after the event, didn't have any more interest in polite euphemisms than any other down-timer, the statements made generally interesting reading. Some people said that the English translation was almost as good as having People magazine back.

Victor Saluzzo sternly reprimanded the health teacher at the high school who assigned his students to take the affidavits and work through such events as timing of intercourse, progress of the sperm, fertilization, and implantation to obtain a more realistic estimate of the time of the start of Mrs. Jenkins' pregnancy than the "fifteen minutes" being bandied about at the betting sites. The reprimand went into the teacher's permanent record in spite of his protest that the project had done more to get the boys' minds focused on how all this really worked than anything else he had ever tried.

There were times she thought that if anybody opened one more phone conversation with, "My goodness, Mary Ellen!" she would stand there and scream.

Although Clara had been coming to church with Wes since they got back, she was still officially Lutheran, so Pastor Kastenmayer at St. Martin's wrote and issued a theological treatise on the Lutheran view of the matter, which came out from a press in Jena and was widely admired in scholarly circles. The pastor had served in parishes all his life, but now it seemed that he was starting to be seen as something of an expert on comparative up-time and down-time marriage law. The university invited him to give a guest lecture, which he had certainly never expected in his wildest dreams. Much less that Count Ludwig Guenther would appoint him to the Ehegericht for Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. As Kastenmayer's wife Salome was telling everyone proudly, it was a real honor for a pastor to serve on the marriage court. Kastenmayer himself said to Gary Lambert, the business manager of Grantville's hospital, that he was not quite so thrilled about the prospect of spending a lot of his time for the next several years sorting through the debris of failed betrothals and marriages.

Given that West Virginia had not recognized common law marriage, there was fairly widespread doubt among even the nicest of Grantvillers that the do-it-yourself ceremony was for real, no matter what the affidavits said. Over in Jena, Chip Jenkins, who was going to law school, wrote a treatise in English on the down-time legal view of the matter. That got published too. Down-timers admired it, but almost every born Grantviller who phoned Mary Ellen at the parsonage "figured that he owed it to his uncle, after all," so none of them were taking it very seriously.

Somewhere in the course of these developments, Veda Mae Haggerty said something about the various marriages of Willard and Lois Carsons' much idolized son Matt that caused them to declare her persona non grata in the dining room of the Willard Hotel. Common political prejudices will only take people so far and no farther. The Carsons considered Matt to be off limits.

Mary Ellen found that out the day she walked into Cora's and heard Veda Mae proclaiming that she guessed she was stuck with having to eat here again if she didn't want to pay the higher price at Tyler's, die of ptomaine at the greasy spoon, or make do with pizza, because she wasn't about to go to the Thuringen Gardens with all its racket and she'd always hated packing a lunch.

Cora didn't usually make the City Hall Cafe off limits to anyone, but she finally made an exception for Veda Mae Haggerty. Again. Much to the old hag's indignation, of course.

Veda Mae was extremely indignant. She was forced to go grovel to Lois Carson and apologize for what she said about that overaged spoiled baby who was Lois' son Matt.

At least she still had a place to eat lunch.

Pastor Ludwig Kastenmayer looked at the up-timer standing in his study.

"It said so on the radio," Jarvis Beasley said. "In one of the stories about Wes Jenkins and that woman he married over in Fulda. Or, maybe, didn't marry over in Fulda. That you're in charge of fixing this sort of problem now."

That wasn't quite the way that Pastor Kastenmayer would have described service on a marriage court.

"The story said you wrote a book about it. It's no skin off my nose, you know. I'm free to come and go. But Judge Tito told Hedy to stay inside the Ring of Fire, so she can't go to church any more. She's likely to have the baby any day now. If she can't bring it to church, she can't get it baptized. She's afraid that if it isn't baptized and then it dies, it will go to hell. Can you do something? She thinks that she's being more trouble to me than she's worth."

Jarvis frowned, a vaguely disturbed look on his face. "She's not, really. Too much trouble, I mean. Hedy's good. Works hard. Doesn't talk all the time. Doesn't drink much. Doesn't flirt with other guys. Makes good stew, even if she does use a lot more mutton than I'm used to eating. Doesn't waste money. That's why we eat so much mutton."

Pastor Kastenmayer stroked his goatee, thinking. The man's effort to catalog the merits of his concubine-she was clearly a wife under Grantville's civil law, so perhaps it would be more prudent to refer to her as his wife in this conversation-had clearly strained his analytical ability.

Jarvis went on. "Vesta, that's my boss."

"Yes?"

"She says that if you came over into town, we could have the kid baptized the way Hedy wants it at the laundry. There's always plenty of water in a laundry. Walpurga, the girl who's got her eye on Mitch Hobbs who's the manager now, says she would be a godmother. Hedy thinks the baby will need one."

"And what tasks do you perform at this laundry? For your boss, this Vesta. Her name is?"

"Vesta Rawls. She was Vesta Eberly before she married Chuck Rawls. Well, I'm the maintenance man. Not for the machines. I sweep up. If someone breaks out a pane of glass, I put in a new one. I carry things around, or if they're too heavy for that, I push them on the dolly. Stuff. It's a good job. Regular. Not like picking up odd jobs."

Not an uncommon type, Kastenmayer thought. Designed by God, in the hierarchy of being, to live and die as a day laborer. In a way, it was comforting to know that the up-timers had those also. That not everyone among them was brilliant and understood the miracles of "technology."

The man's job was regular. His employer's suggestion was irregular. Highly irregular. However, no baby should remain unbaptized longer than necessary.

"Let me know," Pastor Kastenmayer said, "as soon as the baby is born. As for the other…" He sighed. "Sorting out matrimonial problems always takes time. Usually a lot of time. Judge Tito was probably right. Tell your, uh, wife, to stay right in Grantville. I'll start arranging for collection of the affidavits and depositions. I served parishes in Saxony until I received my first appointment in Gleichen about twenty years ago. I know something of the ecclesiastical ordinances in force there, but I'll have to review them."

Jarvis nodded. He had no idea what affidavits and depositions might be, much less an ecclesiastical ordinance, but it did seem like this guy was willing to try to help Hedy. Which meant that he was probably okay. Which meant that Buster might have the right of it, some of the things he'd been trying to tell him lately.

"I'll tell Hedy to stay in Grantville." Then he said. "Um. If you come downtown and baptize the baby, could I invite a couple of people? My grandma died last fall and Gramps is taking it kind of hard. It might cheer him up a little."

Pastor Kastenmayer thought that caution was in order. "Which of the Grantville churches does your grandfather attend?"

"He ain't a church member. Never has been. None of us are."

"Very well." A third of them are heathen. "Let me get all the information I need to start. Could you spell your name, please?"

Jarvis spelled his name. He spelled Hedy's name. The recollection of a newspaper article about a brawl and an attempted beating rose vaguely to the top of Pastor Kastenmayer's mind.

"Ah. Beasley. Are you any, um, connection of Denise? Denise Beasley." He remembered Denise well. She had been to church at Christmas with Gerry Stone and Minnie Hugelmair. The girl was unusual, but not hostile. "Or of Kenneth Beasley? Of the 250 Club?"

"Denise's dad is my cousin."

That was all right.

"Ken's my dad."

Pastor Kastenmayer sighed deeply. What was the phrase that Jonas had picked up from that extraordinary woman who worked for Herr Piazza? Liz, her name was. Liz Carstairs. "We do not have problems. We have challenges and opportunities."

He would have to include thankfulness to God for so many challenges and opportunities in his morning prayers. In his evening prayers. If he repeated often enough that he was sincerely grateful, he might come to feel gratitude more sincerely, as a habitude. The catechism was correct, of course. "We should fear and love God, that. .." Sometimes the tasks to which God set his servants could be truly fearsome. While baptizing a grandchild of the owner of the 250 Club might not be equivalent to standing in defiance before the Holy Roman Emperor at the Diet of Worms, as Martin Luther had done, still… it might be an interesting event.

There was another of the up-time proverbs that Jonas had collected. "May you live in interesting times." They considered it to be a curse, Jonas said. They might have a point.

Chapter 36

Grantville

"What you are," Denise said, "is a dumb, filthy-minded old bitch, to say any such thing."

"And you are Buster Beasley's little bastard."

Cora Ennis was not happy. Gossip was one thing. A direct physical confrontation in her cafe was something else. Right now, it looked like Denise Beasley and Benny Pierce's Minnie were about to attack Veda Mae Haggerty with their fists and fingernails. Which, if it happened, would be about as one-sided a contest as she could imagine. Veda Mae's viciousness did not extend to fisticuffs-and both Denise and Minnie could physically handle most boys their own age.

"They have published the papers about their marriage, Frau Haggerty," Minnie Hugelmair said. "The affidavits. The expert opinions. It was legal."

"Forged documents!" Veda Mae sputtered. "Poppycock."

"Pastor Kastenmayer at St. Martin's has published a pamphlet explaining that even when the marriage and the church blessing happen at the same service, it is the couple themselves who exchange vows. It is consent that causes a marriage to take place, not something that someone else does. The part that goes, 'I, Somebody, take you, Somebody Else' in English. If they don't do that, having somebody official pronounce them man and wife has no effect at all. Mayor Dreeson can't walk up to any two unmarried people walking down the street together and pronounce them man and wife. Or, I suppose, he could, but it wouldn't mean anything. Gerry Stone sent Denise a copy that he bought at the bookstore in Rudolstadt. If you have not learned German, I will be happy to stand here and read it to you in English. Every word."

Minnie's voice was very calm, and her tone of voice remained even. "Then you will apologize to the Reverends Jones for what you said."

Joe Pallavicino had heard that tone in Minnie's voice many times in the past couple of years and recognized it as the start of trouble. He started to slide out of the booth where he was sitting.

"What is it to you, anyway?" Veda Mae went on the offensive.

"Benny Pierce goes to your church. He loves the Reverends Jones. And nobody is going to insult anybody that Benny cares about to my face. Not without having to deal with me. Not behind my back either, if I ever get to hear about it. And you are not supposed to be a nasty gossip. Your own church says that is wrong. I've had to sit there with Benny enough Sundays in the winters, when I didn't want to walk all the way out to St. Martin's in the snow, that I've learned that much."

"Little Kraut vagabond."

"Listen to me, Mrs. Haggerty," Denise said, leaning forward. "You were thick as thieves with Velma Hardesty all last summer yourself. She married a down-timer too, so where do you come off being so picky nice-nice about Mrs. Jenkins?"

"Laurent Mauger isn't a Kraut. He's a Frenchman, from the Netherlands. The French and the Dutch were our allies in the war," Veda Mae proclaimed.

"The French aren't our allies," Denise retorted. "King Gustavus Adolphus is fighting Richelieu. That's France. They were part of the League of Ostend that killed Hans Richter."

"Not this war, you stupid little idiot. The real war. World War

II."

"What was that?" Minnie asked.

"The war my daddy fought in. The war against the Nazis. The war against the Germans. The war against you Krauts. And we were allied with the French. So people like Velma's husband, or Jacques-Pierre Dumais, are ancestors of those heroes of the resistance. The Free French. Just like the Huguenots, here and now, like Laurent Mauger and Jacques-Pierre are resisting that Cardinal Richelieu. Huguenots are Protestant."

"Mr. Jenkins is a Protestant too," Minnie said. "At least, I think that Methodists are Protestant. Anyway, he goes to the same church that you and Benny do, you old witch, so if he isn't Protestant, neither are you. And you are going to apologize to the Reverends Jones. Whatever you may say about me, Mr. Jenkins is not a German and neither are they."

"No way is that Dumais guy some kind of James Bond hero. He's a garbage collector!" Denise yelled. "And he hangs out at Uncle Ken's 250 Club. I tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to write to Don Francisco Nasi and ask him if that guy is some kind of resistance hero. And I'll publish his answer in the paper. If Roger Rude won't take it, I'll buy an ad. So there."

Behind the counter, Joe Pallavicino was poking phone numbers as fast as he could. Benny. Buster. The police. Henry Dreeson. Anybody. Cora was holding the phone book open in front of him. Then he slipped out into the aisle between the tables and the booths, hoping that he could defuse the situation before the girls got themselves into more trouble than they could get out of. Girl fights were one thing, but. .. Veda Mae wasn't well liked, but people wouldn't react well to having them go after an old woman.

Damned if I'll call her an old lady, even to myself, he thought. Veda Mae Haggerty is no lady of any kind.

Those two girls would beat the crap out of her, too. A raw and primitive side of Joe was urging him to let them do it. It'd sure be fun to watch.

"I told her I was going to," Denise said at breakfast the next morning. "And I did. Even though Benny showed up and coaxed Minnie into backing off."

"Did what, Princess Baby?" Buster asked.

"I wrote a letter to Don Francisco Nasi in Magdeburg. The Spook of Spooks for Mike Stearns. And I told him every single word that Horrid Hag Haggerty said about those two guys, Mauger and Dumais. And every other little scrap of information I could find about the people they've been hanging out with, asking around a bit yesterday."

"You think he's going to read a letter from a kid?" Christin asked.

"He'd better," Denise muttered. "If he knows what's good for him."

Saturday was almost always the busiest morning. It started a little later than most days, but then it never let up until after lunch. Cora looked out over the room. Kaffeeklatsch time. Every booth was full. So were most of the tables. And, just what she didn't need, Veda Mae Haggerty coming in the door. Coming back again. Life at the City Hall Cafe had been more tranquil while Veda Mae was patronizing the Willard.

A half hour later, all she could think was that Veda Mae sure was in rare form. She had started with comments on Wes Jenkins' marriage to Clara again, repeating her insults in regard to the roles played by the Reverends Jones and Jenny Maddox.

Cora glanced at the back booth. Jenny was in there. She'd been there before Veda Mae arrived, tucked in the far corner, having coffee with Marietta Fielding. Also with her sister, Maxine Pilcher. And Anita Barnes. Of the four, even if she looked that way, the only one Veda Mae would be able to see was Anita.

Veda Mae declaimed on. A follow-up about Tom Stone and Magda and something rude about the Stones in general. Then down to specifics: Frank getting married to an Eye-talian and everyone knew they had been allies of the Krauts; Gerry being in a down-time school over at Rudolstadt and planning to become a Lutheran Kraut minister; Ron dating Missy Jenkins. That brought her back to the Jenkins family again-something about Chip Jenkins going to the Kraut university in Jena and being for all practical purposes engaged to Katerina von Ruppersdorf who was one of those awful Kraut nobles which was undoubtedly why he had written that trashy pamphlet. His half-sister Anne Jefferson being married to some Kraut guy who had gone off to Russia and everyone knew that the Russians were Commies, a passing comment on the "little Kraut slut" who had been living with Chad and Debbie while she went to school, and ending up with a concluding proclamation that the Jenkins family in general, for all its money and prestige in Grantville, was "going native."

Someone stood up. Oh, lordy! Cora thought. Vera Hudson. Willie Ray's wife. Debbie's mother. Vera wouldn't give Chad the time of day, but she would never let anyone get by with put-downs on her grandchildren. Not that Vera was likely to say anything in defense of one of the Stones, since Missy and Ron weren't official yet, exactly, not but what it appeared to be high time that they should be, but she was bound to attack full steam in defense of Chip's young lady and Anne's husband.

Anne's husband, in particular.

Vera had kept Anne for a long time after Don Jefferson's death. First while Debbie finished high school, then during the four years Debbie was getting her degree at WVU, and when Debbie came back to Grantville to teach in 1978 on the grounds that the first couple of years were always so time-consuming for a beginning teacher and what they were paying Debbie really wouldn't cover decent day care. Back when Chad and Debbie married during Christmas vacation in 1980, Vera insisted on keeping Anne. At the time, Cora had thought it was a little odd. But Vera claimed that it would upset Anne to move in with them in the middle of the school year and the newlyweds needed some time to adjust to one another. At least, that was the story she told everyone. Debbie finally put her foot down that summer and insisted Anne live with her and Chad. Vera had not been a bit happy and the ten-year-old Anne even less. Afterwards she spent as much of her weekends, school breaks and summers with Vera and Willie Ray as her mom would allow.

As far as Vera was concerned, Anne could do no wrong.

Cora had a feeling that this was going to be one of those days that caused her to start her evening diary entry with, "A lively time was had by all." That was before the door opened again, admitting Inez Wiley and Veronica Dreeson, who- oh, no, no- had Denise and Minnie in tow. And Idelette, the Genevan girl, of course, but she was very well behaved.

After the last confrontation, Joe Pallavicino had talked to the two old biddies. Since then, they had been, as Joe put it, mentoring Denise and Minnie more intensively.

They came in just as Maxine scooted over and let Jenny out of the back booth.

" So sehr wie eine Walkure," an appreciative male voice murmured as Jenny stalked down the aisle toward the front of the cafe, lining herself up next to Vera.

Couldn't Inez and Ronnie have decided to mentor somewhere else?

Who needed an irritated Valkyrie in the City Hall Cafe?

Why was Veda Mae here instead of over at the Willard, anyway? Why had she been here the other day, for that matter? Was she on the outs with Lois again? About what, this time? Cora's natural curiosity perked up a bit.

The wad of little bells fastened to the front door jingled again.

The first person Clara saw when she came through the door was Jenny Maddox, whom she liked and admired. "Good morning, Jenny," she said. Then she saw Vera Hudson, to whom, as a connection of her husband's family, she should be courteous. She gave a little wave. "Isn't it gorgeous out, Mrs. Hudson. I have been walking around, up and down the hills, admiring the sun on the icicles. Up on the greenhouse, where the roof is warm and the snow water trickles down, they reach all the way from the eaves to the ground, like the stone formations in the Feengrotten. There are many snow men, someone has made a snow sphinx in his front yard. Isn't that interesting?"

Jenny stared at her. Then said, "Good morning."

No one else in the room was saying anything at all.

Clara had never heard such quiet in Cora's. She looked around for the cause just as Denise and Minnie tore themselves loose from their mentors and dashed to stand one on each side of her.

"May I have tea, please, Cora. The sassafras kind."

She reached out, putting one hand on the nearest shoulder of each of the girls. "Has she been making a fool of herself again, this malignant… pain in the donkey?"

Denise broke into giggles. "It's 'ass,' Clara, not 'donkey.' "

"Wesley told me that 'ass' is not a nice word."

"It's not, but 'donkey' sort of loses the meaning of the insult. Because one kind of an ass is a donkey but the other kind of ass is the one that has a pain in it."

"I don't know if she has been making a fool of herself right now, exactly" Minnie said quietly. "We just got here. But she has said such awful things, over and over again, about so many good people, that she should be ashamed of herself. Not just about you and Mr. Jenkins. About Chip, Gerry, Gerry's dad. Everyone."

"Why would it matter to Chip or Gerry what she says? Neither one of them cares what Grantville thinks, any more."

"Clara!" Jenny Maddox said.

"Well, it's true. Neither of them lives here; both have left this town behind. They are not likely to come back. They are both being educated, being qualificated-qualified-for responsible professional careers that will take them to far more important places than this. For them, now, this is only a small city in which they were born, far off the main trade routes. They have relatives here, but it will not be their home. Why should they care what a bitter woman says about them?"

" Klug, diejenige," the voice that had admired Jenny said into the silence.

"As for her…" Clara gestured at Veda Mae. "Do what the Mennonites do. Shun her. Do not acknowledge that she is present. Soon enough, if you do that, she will go away."

"Clara," Vera Hudson asked. "Clara, don't you mind?"

"Thirteen years," Clara said, looking around the cafe. "Thirteen years in my first marriage I was barren. I stormed heaven, I beat upon its gates with my fists. I prayed for a child as hard as Hannah prayed for Samuel. We consulted physicians, but still my husband died leaving no son to follow him. How can this old fool make me mind that in my marriage to Wesley I am blessed to be fertile right away. She cannot make me other than the luckiest and happiest woman in this town. She cannot make me other than the luckiest and happiest woman in the whole, entire, world. I will not let her make me other than that. I say only that she is being-has been-very, very, rude, from start to finish."

"That's one way to put it, I guess," Maxine Pilcher, who was still standing by the back booth waiting for Jenny to slide back in, said to Anita.

Clara grinned at her. "Don't you think that I do not know that your husband Keith has been betting when I have this baby. Like a lot of other husbands of you women here. It would be easier to make a list of who of them have not been betting when I have this baby. I will have it when God wills, like every baby is born. I am bound to have it some time, so I wish every bettor at the Thuringen Gardens a winning wager, but I dare you all. Make your husbands, whoever gets the winnings, donate them to the Red Cross once I have delivered and they know the date. That is only fair. The men have given Wesley much 'razzing' because he made me pregnant so fast and since his mother is the president of the Red Cross now, it is right that it should benefit from his suffering. So. And now I want my sassafras tea, please, Cora."

She plopped herself down into a chair between Inez and Ronnie, telling Denise and Minnie that they were both so skinny that they could share the fourth one.

"Well," Marietta Fielder said, raising an eyebrow. "What do you make of that?"

Jenny Maddox grinned at her best friend. "Clara thinks she is the direct beneficiary of a divine miracle and Wes Jenkins is God?"

Marietta managed to catch her cup before it broke, but not before she had splashed a considerable portion of the coffee onto the front of her sensible gray jacket. She was, after all, Wes' first cousin on the Newton side of the family. Before the Ring of Fire, Grantville had been a rather small town.

"What's interesting," Anita Barnes said, "is what she didn't say."

"Didn't?" Jenny asked.

"She didn't even pay any attention to the controversy over the-is 'legality' what they call it?-of whatever they did in Fulda. She blew it off. A marriage; then a baby right away. Whee."

" 'Validity,' " Marietta said. That's the word they're using. 'Validity.' "

"Clara obviously doesn't have any questions," Anita said. "As far as she's concerned, it was legal. Valid. Whatever. At most, she's annoyed because Her Nastiness Veda Mae has been harassing Wes."

"Well, about the marriage," Jenny said, "keeping the wedding here secret was really Mary Ellen's idea. She persuaded Simon and Wes. Clara was standing there in the parsonage parlor that afternoon saying, 'I still think we should have had a party.' Looking back, maybe they should have. It would have cut the gossip off right then. And she absolutely did insist on inviting Wes' mother and Chad and Debbie. Put her foot down. Sort of hard. Practically a stomp."

"Wes sure hasn't reacted so calmly," Maxine said.

Marietta shook her head. "Wes has a temper-always has had, as long as I can remember. According to Debbie, he got mad because he thought the 250 Club types were trying to insult Clara's virtue. Which they were, of course. Debbie says that he's awfully protective about Clara."

"Personally," Anita said, "I think she can take care of herself."

"Agreed," Maxine interrupted, "I hope that Wes and Clara don't ever both get mad at the same time. Whether at each other or at somebody else."

Jenny giggled. "As for the 'razzing,' though, I sort of doubt that even Wes really minds. Do you all know any man who would really get upset about being teased about being so virile that he got his wife pregnant the first time he gave her a poke? If he's going to get razzed at all, that has to be a pretty tolerable reason, the way guys think."

Anita frowned. "Arnold Bellamy would get upset."

"Arnold," Maxine said, "is an exceptional case. A person has to wonder how he and Natalie ever produced three kids."

"But if Clara thinks the thing they did in Fulda was enough, however they did it, I wonder what she thinks the marriage license and the ceremony that Simon did were all about?" Anita picked up her purse and started to dig through it for change for a tip.

"What I wonder is who managed to get into my files and dig out that license. One of these days, I'll find out and then…" Jenny's tone was threatening.

Maxine lined up her knife and fork on her plate. When Keith got back from that trip to the Upper Palatinate, he had called Doc Adams, who ordered her to come in, gave her a checkup, and told her that she had to eat more. Then Keith told Cora, who wouldn't let her get away with ordering "just coffee" any more. "Decorations on the Christmas tree? Icing on the cake?"

"Huh?" Anita blinked.

"That's what she probably thinks that the wedding Simon did for them was. That would go with wanting to have a party."

"Let's ask Ronnie. She's more likely than anyone here to know how the down-timers look at these things." Anita didn't seem inclined to give up.

"No," Maxine said. "I will not ask Veronica Dreeson. No matter how curious I am."

"Bite off your nose, will you?" Marietta finished her coffee. "I've got to get back to work."

Chapter 37

Frankfurt am Main

"I really think he means it," Ouvrard said.

Locquifier had just read Ducos' repeated order to assassinate Gustavus Adolphus, Princess Kristina, Michael Stearns, Rebecca and Wilhelm Wettin-all on the same day, in the same place, and as soon as possible after the election.

Ducos' orders were accompanied by a long disquisition from Delerue explaining precisely how they were to do this in such a way that the derailment of the smooth transition of political power after the election would, without question, be blamed on Richelieu. And an explanation of why the word derailment was now acceptable French.

"What does he intend to do?" Brillard asked. "Submit it to the Academie francaise once it is founded next month? If indeed, it is founded on schedule, so to speak, on the twenty-second day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand sixteen hundred thirty-five?"

Delerue had bored the remainder greatly with his enthusiasm about this epochal cultural development.

"To get their approval to place it in a dictionary?" Ouvrard grimaced. "One would hope he has the prudence to maintain silence in Michel's presence-keeping in mind that Richelieu founded it."

"Let me think about this," Locquifier said.

***

Locquifier sat there for a long time, his forehead resting on his hands.

Michel must be mad. At the very least, isolated in Scotland, he must have no idea exactly what challenges the men in Frankfurt were facing. It would be hopeless, utterly hopeless, to try to organize those five assassinations.

For one thing, he had developed his own plan. One that was in his grasp. One that did not overreach. In his own mind, he had already allotted Mathurin Brillard to a specific project.

Brillard was the only really good marksman in the group. Something that Michel tended to forget. Something that Antoine Delerue frequently forgot. Or, at least, frequently ignored when the realities of life started to impinge upon his abstract and theoretical convictions.

"Budget," Ancelin suggested.

"Unfortunately, budget is not really a problem. Sandrart may have removed Milkau from our clutches, but we are squeezing enough other members of the Calvinist diaspora hard enough that we can't lament that we are poorly funded. Not, at least, with any pretense of plausibility."

"Personnel, then?"

"Better." Locquifier scratched his head. "We must reiterate, I think. Since Michel has reiterated his orders, we must repeat our reply. With just enough variance from the last time that he knows we did in fact read his letter. So, we tell him what? That we will stick with what we have already decided-namely to act against the Grantville synagogue, with the hospital as a cover for this."

"Ah. Publicity. Explain how useful the dual approach will be. If rumors surface, if Nasi gets wind of the project, etc., the focus of the opposition's attention can be 'blipped' either way as they say on the radio. Just a few well-chosen pamphlets, rapidly produced on our faithful duplicating machine."

"It is rarely a life-enhancing experience to tell Michel that a person cannot do what he wants. He won't be happy with demonstrations only, I suspect." Deneau crossed his arms over his chest.

"Pamphlets," Locquifier said with sudden inspiration. "More pamphlets, apparently from many different sources, repeating a variety of rumors that Richelieu is planning to have those five persons assassinated. Just rumors will have a greatly unsettling impact. Anger the Swede. Occupy the time and attention of the spymaster Nasi. Why, rumors will do almost as much good as actually trying to do it."

"Are you certain that Michel will see things that way?"

"Not certain, no. But it's better than nothing. Ah, actually.. ." He hesitated. Should he explain this? Or not? Probably better to explain it.

"I was rather intending not to inform Michel that we are producing the pamphlets about the rumors ourselves. Rather hoping that we could just send selected pamphlets to him, as they appear. We can put on false places of publication, of course-everyone does. Distribute them through the same network that Weitz's contacts use. I was… rather hoping that Michel and Antoine are so far away that they will never find out that we aren't actually working very hard to carry out his instructions."

" Merde!" Ancelin exclaimed. "Guillaume, that's… damned brilliant."

The others agreed.

"So," Ancelin said. "Is there anything else we can do to give Michel the right impression?"

"Analysis of alternate possibilities," Ouvrard suggested. "That usually works well in causing a discussion to veer off course. Send Michel a listing of every 'soft underbelly' in the USE that we can think of."

"Why limit it to the USE?" Deneau asked.

"Because that's where we are?" was Ancelin's practical answer.

"We're creating smoke and mirrors anyway," Ouvrard pointed out. "So, we say: The USE is worried, so security is tight and the targets are hard. But-let's think. Princess Kristina is unreachable, but what about the Danish prince to whom she is now betrothed? Or the up-time lady-in-waiting to whom she is said to be so attached? That one's betrothed, the ridiculous Imperial Count of Narnia? If we can't reach Gustavus, then what about his queen in Stockholm? If not Stearns, then his ally Piazza? Ableidinger? If not the Abrabanel woman, then her father? If not Wettin, then one of his brothers? The possibilities are endless."

"Don't become too fond of your brainstorming, Robert. If we list too many options, he will realize that we are just creating excuses." Locquifier paused. "Choose three of these possibilities you have suggested and write up an analysis of each. As if we were seriously offering them for his consideration."

"It's a pity to abandon the rest."

"Then just give them a passing mention at the end, as if you were blowing them off as unrealistic and unlikely."

"In fact, Mathurin, nothing will placate Michel and Antoine but an assassination. Not in the long run, though this ploy will probably work for the time being." Locquifier looked up. "Hold yourself ready. As the time draws nearer, I will provide you with a target. Only one, since I am a reasonable man. Under cover of the demonstrations."

Brillard nodded.

Soubise picked up his wine and looked at the latest letter from his brother Henri again. Meditatively. Besancon. An interesting choice. He had rather anticipated that he would be off to Geneva for negotiations with the good Calvinist city fathers. But… Henri de Rohan and Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar were old friends, of course.

Richelieu would not be pleased at all. This move would also make it somewhat more difficult for Henri to present his continuing protestations that he was unquestionably a loyal subject of Louis XIII in a plausible manner. A lot more difficult, even, considering that the cardinal had not approved a change of venue. Important men could not just wander around the map of Europe without the permission of their monarchs. Not even if the council of the Most Serene Republic of Venice had finally decided not to renew a particular man's contract with its army, which meant that, as an exile, most of his estates confiscated by the French monarchy, Henri was once more looking for a job.

And would love to get back into the field. A general could only write so many books before the activity palled.

Not that Soubise wouldn't like to be commanding a few ships again, himself. Or many ships.

Garrison commander in Geneva would have been good, Soubise thought. Not that Henri had asked him. His older brother was well into his fifties, not as young as he used to be. A comfortable municipal post from which he could face down the dukes of Savoy would have been-not bad, in Soubise's humble opinion. Which it was now too late to express.

He opened the second letter in the stack.

Cavriani's son was off to Naples. Leopold himself had discovered that he had urgent business matters in Strassburg.

Very few really urgent business matters, Soubise thought, involved conferring with history professors. Not that Matthias Bernegger at the University of Strassburg didn't have an interesting network of his own, but it rarely involved exalted financial transactions.

After Strassburg, Leopold anticipated that he would be passing through Freiburg im Breisgau. Then Basel. One might almost think that he had seen enough of Basel when he was there with the Austrian archduchess, but perhaps not. Basel, Buxtorf, and Wettstein. Then back to Strassburg. Then… Besancon.

Oh.

No particular reason for Henri to go to Geneva right now, if Cavriani wasn't there.

But. As a response to Henri's ploy, Richelieu would certainly start making life more difficult for the duchess and for Anne. For the girl-his niece Marguerite.

If Rohan was to continue as Rohan, they could not let Henri's daughter be forced into marriage with any Catholic peer.

Roi, je ne puis,

Duc, je ne daigne,

Rohan je suis.

No, they lacked the lineage to be kings. But they must remain themselves. "I am Rohan."

What they needed for Marguerite, as a husband for the Rohan family's only heiress, was, obviously, a Protestant.

Soubise frowned. He was not sure that Henri was wise to be considering a match with Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar so seriously. If the lineage was to continue, they shouldn't choose a man who would absorb Rohan into his own career and use its assets to further his own ambitions. They needed a man who would become Rohan for her. With her.

Soubise prayed that Marguerite would mature to have the same spirit as her grandmother, Catherine de Parthenay-Larcheveque, who had written to Henri from La Rochelle during the great siege, insisting that they must achieve "secure peace, complete victory, or honorable death." The old motto of Jeanne d'Albret, Henri IV's mother-never to be forgotten by the Huguenots.

Not if they hoped to survive in this world, at least.

Not for nothing did the Rohan descend from Isabelle d'Albret, aunt of that very queen of Navarre.

Grantville

Noelle threw the newspaper on the table.

"Would you like me to say 'damn' for you?" Eddie Junker inquired politely.

"I am so sick of how the Crown Loyalists are insulting Ed Piazza because of Barclay and that bunch." She looked across the table. "And you, too, Mr. Jenkins. I'm sorry about the whole thing. If we only could have stopped them."

Chad Jenkins put his toast down. "At least they aren't using it much in the campaign on the national level."

"I suppose that's better than nothing. But it still isn't what anyone could call good." She looked at her uncle. Who was married to the sister of Chad Jenkins' wife. She was still sorting out all the dozens of new relatives and relatives-by-marriage she had acquired when she officially became a Stull instead of a Murphy. Consanguinity and affinity, the church called it. "What do you think, Joe?"

She still hadn't managed to talk herself into calling any of them "aunt" or "uncle." Not when she called her father by his first name.

"You should have shot the Hungarian when you had the chance. Or at least shot into the barge instead of into the river. With any luck, it would have sunk in the Danube, right there at Regensburg. The garrison could have fished them out and sent them home, we could have tried them the same way we did Bolender's bunch, and we'd be done with it by now."

His wife Aura Lee looked at him, reproachfully. "Don't be mean to Noelle."

"It would have taken really a lot of luck," Eddie pointed out. "Considering Noelle's marksmanship. She was lucky to hit the river."

Chad Jenkins laughed. "No point in crying about spilled milk. Duke Albrecht and Kay Kelly are going to make the most of it in the campaign, and that's all there is to it." He leaned back. "I hear she's actually gotten Gustavus to order delivery of ten of those 'Dauntless' planes, just as fast as Bob can build them."

Joe, who was also the SoTF Secretary of Transportation, was on solid ground, now. He leaned back and began to summarize resources, warehouse space, how far the various companies that were starting to manufacture aviation engines had gotten, delivery schedules for parts and components, availability of skilled personnel, and testing procedures.

It didn't seem like Gustavus was likely to get those planes any time soon. He should thank his lucky stars if he got a couple of them in time for next spring's campaign.

"I don't think that Mom's really designed to hit the campaign trail," Missy told Ron. "Honestly, she hates it. She tries to hide it, but she just hates it."

"Well, your dad keeps her out of it, as much as he can," Ron said. "And you've got to admit that Willie Ray is in his glory. Your grandfather's having a wonderful time."

"Oh, yeah." Missy giggled. "Just like the old days, back when he was in the state legislature. He's having a ball."

"He and Dreeson make quite a pair."

Chapter 38

Frankfurt am Main

"The Vignelli machine is broken." Deneau looked up in annoyance.

"What did you expect?" Brillard put down the stylus with which he was making a stencil. Another stencil. One of the many deliberately amateurish stencils that Locqufier's group had spent their time making this winter. They offended Brillard's pride. He had been a properly apprenticed type maker, once upon a time. Before the lead type had been taken by de Rohan's soldiers, to make bullets. Before the dysentery that the soldiers brought to his home town carried off his master and fellow apprentices. Before he had been caught up in the first of de Rohan's Huguenot revolts and become a soldier himself, nearly fifteen years ago.

He started to count on his fingers. "First, the unfortunate machine has been asked to make hundreds of pamphlets opposing the practice of vaccination. For many reasons. Not only those set forth in the up-time materials that the man in Grantville sent to de Ron, but also for new reasons that we invented, such as that getting a vaccination indicates that a person is not meekly submitting to the will of God.

"Then, from the encyclopedia, Gui found out that the up-timers-not the ones now in Grantville, but their ancestors a century and a half before the time they came from-had opposed these new 'lightning rods' for much the same reason. So we requested of the poor machine that it be so kind as to produce hundreds of pamphlets opposing lightning rods.

"Plus Antoine's ordinary diatribes against Richelieu.

"Plus manifestoes for Weitz.

"Followed by the need for Guillaume's 'rumors of assassinations' pamphlets by the thousand. What did we expect? The poor machine is overstrained. 'Stress' that up-time reporter, Waters is his name, calls it in his 'American' newspaper."

Ancelin walked over and gave the roller a disgusted poke. "Whether it is stressed or broken, it will not produce any more pamphlets. We can still make the stencils ourselves, of course. But until Fortunat can find someone to fix it, we're out of the pamphlet business."

Locquifier shook his head. "We cannot fall behind now. There are printers in Frankfurt who have Vignellis. We must hire the use of one. Not give our stencils to him, of course. He might read them. We can't risk having the authorities discover the source of so many of the pamphlets in circulation. Just hire the use of the machine after the man's normal working day. We can demonstrate to him that you know how to work it, Fortunat. And find someone to fix ours."

Brillard shook his head. "No. One of us, at least, would have to go to the print shop. The man would know that we, the Frenchmen living Zum Weissen Schwan, are producing masses of pamphlets. Just get the machine fixed."

"We can't have a repairman come here, either," Deneau protested.

Locquifier pulled on his mustache. "No, no, of course not. Find out if one of the printers knows someone who can fix it. We will take it to the shop."

"Mathurin is right. None of us should take it to the shop, either," Ouvrard said. "The printer will learn that the Frenchmen living Zum Weissen Schwan have a Vignelli. None of should ask about repairs, either. It might bring the attention of the authorities to us. We can't be too cautious."

Locquifier jumped up. "Have Isaac de Ron send one of his porters around to ask who can repair the machine. Put the machine in a box. Seal the box. Have the porter deliver the sealed box to the print shop and then bring it back again. But…" He banged his fist on the table. "Fix the machine!"

***

The printer Crispin Neumann told de Ron's porter that he had a duplicating machine of his own and his apprentice was quite skilled in its maintenance.

So Locquifier told de Ron to have the porter remove the boxed machine from the back parlor and take it to Neumann.

Which made Emrich Menig very happy. He loved to fiddle with Vignellis.

Martin Wackernagel lounged lazily in the back room of the shop, watching Menig disassemble and then reassemble the machine.

"Stupid klutz," Menig muttered.

"What?"

"He's managed to get the silk from one of his stencils bunched up here." He jerked it out and threw it at his honorary uncle.

Who spread it out and read it. Not having anything better to do at the moment.

"Where'd this machine come from, Emrich?" Martin managed to keep his voice idle and bored.

"One of de Ron's porters brought it in. Over Zum Weissen Schwan.

The bells tolled nine. Wackernagel stood up. "Appel should have the things he wanted me to pick up ready by now." He picked up the sheet of crumpled silk. "I guess I should be getting on the road again."

Which he did. After detouring to speak with David Kronberg's uncle in the ghetto.

Hanau

The rabbi sighed. Oh, the complications. Just because he helped arrange Kronberg's job in the Fulda post office and subsequent happy marriage to Rivka zur Sichel. Whose parents were now the sutlers in Barracktown bei Fulda. Where the redoubtable Sergeant Hartke and his now-famous wife Dagmar held sway.

"Give it to Utt," the Hanauer rabbi told Wackernagel. "He can not only radio the gist of the information you have collected about de Ron's connection to the pamphlets, but also give the silk itself to someone who can deliver it directly to Nasi. Not only directly, but quickly. After all, King Christian and Princess Kristina are coming to Fulda this week to deliver the medals to Dagmar Nilsdotter. There will be a plane as close as Erfurt."

The rabbi sighed.

"As it happens, I have a priority code. Nasi casts a very wide web."

Nathan Prickett picked up his pen.

Dear Don Francisco,

Jason Waters, the reporter who's here in Frankfurt, was in Crispin Neumann's print shop the other day. He met one of Neumann's clients, a man named Heinrich Hirtzwig. He's the rector of the gymnasium here in Frankfurt. That's not a sports place, but the most important high school for boys. The kind that sends a really high percentage of its graduates to the university.

Anyway, this Hirtzwig was born in Hesse and he also writes plays. In Latin, that is, because he's a kind of professor.

Anyway, the Crown Loyalists, especially the landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, have hired him to write some plays saying that Wilhelm Wettin is right and Mike Stearns is wrong. In a lot more words, of course. I just thought you might want to know.

Neumann, the printer, said to Waters that it's too bad that the up-timers with all their maps hadn't managed to arrive with all their maps fifty years earlier, because someone named de Bry would have been delighted. I have no idea what that's all about.

There was still half a page. And these steel-nib pens, even if a guy had to dip them, really were a lot handier than the quills had been.

There's a kid named Emrich Menig who works for Neumann. He was mixed up with those anti-Semitic pamphlets that came out in Fulda when my father-in-law Wes Jenkins was there. But he was just a kid and innocent, so Wackernagel brought him down to Frankfurt.

He's come out to Sachsenhausen a couple of Sunday afternoons to watch the militia drill. I've been showing him how the guns work. He's not particularly hot on shooting, but he has a real knack for mechanical stuff. If he wasn't working for a printer, Blumroder would love to have him.

Anyway, he was fixing a duplicating machine here in Frankfurt the other day and pulled a stuck stencil out of it that said a lot of the same things. But he lost the stencil, so I don't have it.

But being a kid, he was curious, so he went to talk to de Ron's porter. The porter says that there's a bunch of Frenchmen, five or six, who have been staying at de Ron's inn since last summer-July or so. That means they can't be hurting for money, given what de Ron charges. It's not some kind of a dive.

It looked like this was going to run over to another page of paper.

They don't just have this duplicating machine. They use paper by the bale. The porter has to carry the bales in and out, so he knows.

But it isn't delivered to them as bales of paper. It comes into the cellars of the inn labeled as shipments of wine from a company called Mauger's up in the Netherlands.

The guy guesses that they have some other way to get rid of the paper after they've printed things up, because they never ask him to carry it out.

Do you remember Ernie Haggerty, the guy Jason Waters brought to Frankfurt with him? He's made a lot of friends in low places. Sometimes he just sits in taverns, not looking like an up-timer. He can do that, because he's a scrawny little fellow who's going bald and his teeth aren't so good. His folks never got him braces-couldn't afford to-and he's a smoker. Of course, he broke the front one when he was a kid. His brother hit him with a softball. But the cap he has pops on and off pretty easy, so he can be snaggletoothed whenever he wants to.

Anyway, Ernie schmoozed up to the porter from de Ron's.

Vincenz Weitz, that guy who a lot of people thought up was mixed up in planning the attack on the ghetto back when Henry Dreeson was here-remember him?

He's been visiting these Frenchmen at de Ron's and taking piles of paper under his arm when he leaves again.

The guy named Curtius left Soubise's house. He's not gone back to England. Somebody told Wayne Higgenbottom that he was going to meet Soubise's brother in a town called Besancon, which I never heard of, but it's not around here.

Speaking of Wes, him and his second wife are going to have a baby. Chandra says that it's caused a fair amount of excitement in Grantville.

Best wishes,

Nathan Prickett

Grantville, late January 1635

Under the circumstances, Wes found it a little embarrassing that he was still chairing the initiative in regard to uniform statewide matrimonial legislation.

Solving the problems by simply declaring separation of church and state wasn't as simple as a person might think. Take the problems of Jarvis Beasley's wife Hedy, for instance. Even if down-time betrothal contracts were handled procedurally in the church courts, they still were included in the civil laws of the various territories as well. Even in the unlikely event that Saxony abolished its state church, its civil laws of marriage would still be in force in those Henneberg territories south of the Thuringerwald.

Until Gustavus Adolphus managed to do something definitive about John George, at least.

Unless the SoTF congress simply got rid of any variant marriage laws below the level of the province as a whole? Passed a law saying that this was a state-level matter and no longer the concern of the individual territories that had coalesced to create the SoTF?

Wes had never considered himself a radical. A conservative, rather. In no way a revolutionary. A caretaker. That was, in a way, why he had been interested in parks and such, originally. Once upon a time. Up-time.

But there were times when the thought of abolishing the whole diddly-squat mess and starting over, the way Gustavus had done with the new USE provinces in western Germany the previous June, was very appealing. Times like this one. Put the whole USE on a grid. Make it look like Kansas.

He shook his head. No. When you came right down to it, he was an old West Virginia boy. Hills and hollows, curves and bends. He'd lived with them all his life, geographical or jurisdictional. He'd figure something out.

Frankfurt

Nathan Prickett looked at the letter from his mother again.

You know, she had written, I think that I caused a lot of trouble without ever meaning to.

She explained the tour of Vital Statistics that she had given to Jacques-Pierre Dumais.

Everyone knows that's he's a friend of Veda Mae Haggerty, so I think that's the only way it could have gotten out. All the gossip seems to have started with her. But Jenny was so mad that I don't dare tell her. I don't know what I ought to do about it.

Nathan had a feeling that he knew what he ought to do about it. Had to do about it, really.

Dear Don Francisco.

I'm enclosing a letter that I got from my mom.

He finished up.

If you can think of some way to handle this without getting Mom fired from her job, I'd really appreciate it. Jenny Maddox will fire her if she finds out, but all Mom meant to do was show him how the system works and raising a stink about Chandra's dad's second marriage doesn't count as international sabotage or a plot against the USE, if you ask me.

Wes was mad as hell, from what Chandra wrote me, but they are public records. There's nothing Top Secret about a marriage license.

You might want to keep a closer eye on this Dumais character, though.

Thanks a lot.

Nathan Prickett.

Chapter 39

Frankfurt am Main

"You might as well leave now, Fortunat."

Deneau raised his eyebrows. "Go where?"

"To Thuringia, of course. You, Gui, and Weitz, now that Boucher and Turpin have arrived from La Rochelle. Weitz has already contacted like-minded individuals in various Franconian and Thuringian towns. In fact, it is likely that the industrial towns on the south slope of the Thuringerwald will provide more people willing to take action against the Grantville synagogue than you will find in Thuringia. Certainly more people who will be qualified to find temporary work in Grantville than rural villages will.

"In any case, do not let any of the locals know that there is a Huguenot connection. Weitz and his associates are to do the recruitment. They are to be told of it in connection with the men in Frankfurt who were frustrated last fall. Assure, them, of course-have Weitz assure them, that is-that there is plenty of money available to back a major riot. They will expect recompense for the time they miss from work. Everyone has expenses, and many of them will have families to support.

"If Weitz is doing all the work, why are the rest of us going?"

"To ensure that he does the work that we want him to do. In the way we want him to do it. On the schedule we have laid out."

"Four supervisors to one laborer seems somewhat excessive," Brillard commented.

"There will be work for Fortunat and Gui when it comes closer to the day. Someone must draw up the charts that design who, holding what weapon, will stand where, in the market square."

Ancelin frowned, once more pulling out his map of the Croat raid. "There is no market square. Not even a market, as far as I can figure out." He spread it on the table. "See, we have gone over it before. The synagogue is one house over from a corner building. It fronts on a street, not a square. The bridges are nearby, but not immediately in front of it."

"I am getting very tired of that map," Brillard said.

"Memorize it," Locquifier advised him. The day is coming when you will need to have the layout very clear in your mind."

"Very well."

"And do not worry about four supervisors. Fortunat will find out for himself very soon that neither Boucher nor Turpin could supervise a small child taking a bath, much less a complex undertaking."

"Small children in baths are very slippery. My sister has three of them, so I have some reason to know."

"What we are planning is very slippery, as well. You are preparing for your own part?"

"I spend some time every day at the shooting range. The owner knows me as one Matthias Bruller, from Alsace. A partisan, he suspects, for Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar." He smiled. "It was Michel's mention of Charles Mademann that gave me the idea to choose that particular pseudonym. Alsace is such a convenient place, the way French and Germans, Catholics and Protestants, intermingle."

"A job well done," Soubise said. "Thank you, Sandrart."

Joachim Sandrart bowed.

"A loose end. Perhaps not a crucial one. But it was d'Avaux who took Ducos to Italy, d'Avaux who did not control the man once he was there. Ultimately, therefore, d'Avaux who can be considered responsible for the entire Galileo debacle.

"It is amusing, in a way, that Mazarin arranged to send d'Avaux to Brittany. Of course, he is Italian. Perhaps, it did not immediately spring to his mind that the Rohan family does not lack influence there." Soubise drummed his fingers on the table. "My sister-in-law will see to it, then, that the count's tenure in his new position is unpleasant? More unpleasant than even Mazarin intended that it should be?"

"A more appropriate choice of word might be 'miserable.' 'Wretched,' even. A view in which your sister, Mademoiselle Anne, seemed to concur."

"Then, Joachim, we may rest easy that d'Avaux' life, henceforth, will be a lamentable experience. Even in the unlikely event that he should elude the watchers placed on him by the… newly naturalized cardinal."

"Your sister seemed quite enthusiastic about planning measures to ensure it."

Sandrart paused, then continued.

"It is a pity that Mademoiselle Anne was unable to marry. The travails of your family after the death of Henri IV prevented your mother from arranging a suitable match, I presume. She would have brought forth redoubtable sons."

"Anne does not perceive it as a misfortune. Aside from Catherine, may God rest her soul, my sisters chose not to marry. A choice more easily achieved, for a noblewoman, when, as in the case of our family, her father is long since dead by the time she reaches marriageable age. Henriette died ten years ago. She was a quite special friend of Catherine de Mayenne, the duchess of Nevers-Carlo Gonzaga's wife, in Mantua. They exchanged verses. When Catherine died in 1618, Henriette was devastated. Her spirits never recovered."

"Ah." Sandrart nodded his head.

"And you met Anne."

Sandrart inclined his head again. "She is quite impressive. Very learned."

"A remarkable woman. With my late mother, she was the soul of La Rochelle's resistance during the siege in 1627, the one marked by Buckingham's disaster on Ile de Re." Soubise turned his head. "You know la Gentileschi, do you not? You were traveling with her from Rome?"

"Assuredly."

"My mother as a young woman, scarcely twenty years of age, wrote a play which was performed at La Rochelle. Judith et Holopherne. I believe that Gentileschi has painted this theme?"

"Several times."

"Obtain one for me, if you would be so kind. If she has none available that she has painted as a studio project, commission a new one. Oil on canvas. Talk to my steward about costs." Soubise rose from his chair.

Missy's uncle Wes might think Ron was getting to be a pain. However, he supposed this might count as something consular. Approximately. Vaguely. At least, this time he was at the office and he'd phoned ahead for an appointment.

"I got a letter from Joachim Sandrart."

At least Mr. Jenkins' face looked encouraging.

"He's an artist who traveled with us from Padua to Frankfurt. He came up from Rome with Signora Gentileschi, Prudentia's mom. Jabe McDougal's girlfriend. Have you met her? Either one of them?"

Don't rattle on, he told himself. He'll think you're nervous. Just because you are nervous doesn't mean that he needs to know it.

"Joachim's working for Soubise, now, in Frankfurt. He just got back from a trip to France. But that's not exactly why I thought I should bring you the letter to read."

He reached into his pocket, pulled the letter out, and dropped it on the desk.

"He mentioned that Soubise's brother, the duke of Rohan, who is a very important man among the Huguenots, has left Switzerland and gone to Besancon. That's where Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar is setting up his new capital."

"So?"

"In October, on our way back from Italy, we stopped to see the duke. It was Joachim's idea," Ron inserted defensively, "not mine. Honest."

"I believe you."

"It's not been in any of the papers, the Besancon business, I mean. I read at least three different papers every morning, from beginning to end. Because of Dad's business. I pretty well have to. We ship internationally, of course, and there are so many variables. I start with the Street and then the Times and then whatever's the most recent one from Magdeburg that's been delivered to the office. Plus my secretary skims a bunch of others and makes me news clips."

Which actually embarrassed him. Both having a secretary and reading news clips. Frank was running a dive in a slum in Rome and Ron was sitting out at Lothlorien like some Wall Street penguin-type reading news clips, so he could make a reasonable decision on whether some offer that had come in was legit or not.

Not that his secretary was a bad guy. Actually, he was pretty efficient, considering that he was only a couple of years older than Ron. Muselius over at Countess Kate's had recommended Barthold Orban for the job, once it had dawned on Ron that he needed a secretary and mentioned to Jonas that the last thing he needed in the outer office was some guy with a lot of experience who would try to take over because Ron had hardly any.

"Anyway, when we stopped in Switzerland, the duke spent a whole evening talking to me, and gave me a couple of books he's written. I've read them. A little hard-hearted, maybe, but…"

He stopped.

"Uh. Could you just read the letter, before we go any further."

Wes' first thought was: way above my pay grade.

"May I make a copy of this? I think I'll have to ask a few other people before I can give you an answer and I'd like to have one to refer to."

"Sure. Keep the original, if you want. I'll do fine with a copy. I can wait outside." Ron tilted his head at the door that led to the Bureau of Consular Affairs waiting room. "Or come back later this afternoon, before I go back to Lothlorien, to pick it up."

Wes looked at the letter again. "I don't want anyone else looking at this. If you have time, you can go back there"-he tilted his head at the back door of his office, which led into a file room-"and write the copy out there. If you would be so kind."

"Yeah. Sure." Ron stood up.

Wes, still sitting, looked up at the boy. Young man.

"Is there any other business that might possibly have brought you to the Bureau of Consular Affairs this afternoon? Something I can reasonably call Martina or Lucia in and ask her to take care of? To account for your visit? Something that's preferably reasonably complicated?"

Ron frowned. "You know, I really don't like to ask for special favors. But we have this guy out at the plant who comes from someplace up in the Baltic. He landed here because he was in the Swedish army, the Yellow Regiment that was stationed here under Kagg in 1633, but his sister was married to a Pole…"

"Sit down again, why don't you?" Wes started taking notes.

"… and even though he's a Swedish citizen, he'd be willing to be naturalized here if that would help get his sister's kids out of the clutches of their wicked uncle on the other side of the family. Does the SoTF have a consular agent in Danzig?" That was where Ron reached a stopping point. Fifteen minutes later.

Wes asked, "Why hadn't you brought this up with me before?"

"Well, I really don't like to ask for special favors."

Magdeburg

Ed Piazza thought it was probably beyond his pay grade, too. He bucked it on to Magdeburg.

Where it ended up in a conference.

"The letter makes it quite clear, I think," Francisco Nasi said. "The duke of Rohan is not interested in corresponding with anyone in an official position in the USE government. Or in the Swedish government. Or in the SoTF government. He merely wishes to pursue an amicable exchange of opinions with a young man in whom he takes a friendly interest."

Hermann of Hesse-Rotenburg nodded. "Plausible deniability." He paused. "Additionally, Rohan may not feel that he can rely on having his letters treated with full confidentiality by the next administration… It could be a delicate position for him, if Wettin wins. He is, after all, Duke Bernhard's older brother."

Nasi nodded. "No risk of offending anyone in an official position by breaking off communication at that point."

"If Jenkins thinks Stone can do it…" Arnold Bellamy's voice trailed off.

"He wouldn't have forwarded the idea, if he didn't," Frank Jackson said. "Not that the thought of one of Tom Stone's boys conducting delicate diplomatic negotiations with a French ex-rebel doesn't practically make me fall flat on my face."

Bellamy nodded. "Then we'll need a regular liaison. Someone… inconspicuous."

Cory Joe Lang made a discreet coughing noise. As usual, the young intelligence officer was sitting somewhat to the rear, making himself inconspicuous.

"Yes?" Hermann cocked his head.

"If I have understood what you and Don Francisco have been saying, our network. is trying to establish an inconspicuous connection, by way of Stone, to the duke of Rohan. And, indirectly, to Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar."

"That does seem to be the point." Don Francisco took off his spectacles and started to clean them. The action served to control any impulse to smile. Also as usual, Cory Joe was proving to be an excellent assistant. For all the world, the young man seemed to be wrestling with a brand new idea-as if he hadn't already, many weeks since, started working on this very problem.

"If the two of you are willing, I could do it. After all, I see Ron every time I'm in Grantville anyway."

Arnold Bellamy leaned back in his chair. "You do? If you don't mind my asking, why?"

"Pam Hardesty, my half-sister, is working at the state library. Through that she's friends with Missy Jenkins, who's about three years younger than her. So through that, I see Ron every time I'm in Grantville."

It was pretty clear that the connection was not computing.

"Missy and Ron are a couple. Not exactly official. Yet. But trust me. They are."

"I remember them," Jackson protested. "They're just kids."

"They're both nineteen, Sir. They had birthdays just before Christmas." Cory Joe grinned. "They have birthdays just before Christmas every year, Sir."

The general glared the ordinary adult level of indignation at kids who managed to grow up, apparently in an instant, while a person's attention had been focused elsewhere.

"It's a natural tie," Don Francisco commented. "Already friends. Already established, so not obvious."

Hesse-Rotenburg nodded. "It would certainly be far less conspicuous than for Stone to be reporting to one of the SoTF administrative offices regularly."

Cory Joe shrugged. "Not really, Sir. Ron is normally in and out of the administration building two or three times a week. After all, he's managing the local end of the Farbenwerke. His normal business tends to take him into the various corners of economic resources quite a bit. Talking to people like Noelle Stull and Eddie Junker."

Again, Don Francisco had to suppress a smile. He had found it convenient to bestow those portions of his Grantville operations that weren't precisely police business in among the accountants and auditors, who always had a legitimate reason to be nosy. "Speaking of Noelle, while she is on my mind, do you know a young woman named Denise Beasley? She wrote me a letter, recently."

Cory Joe nodded. "Buster Beasley's kid. Friend of Ron's brother Gerry. She's a pip, that one. Even if she is just sixteen."

"I am, I suppose, delighted to hear it." Don Francisco loved ties of blood. The interconnections among the Grantvillers had turned out to be so charmingly intricate as he came to be familiar with them. "When," he asked hopefully, "is this coupledom-if there is such a word in English-likely to become official?"

Cory Joe paused for a moment, assessing the problem. Then: "I don't think it's a sometime thing, even though they may not be sure of that themselves yet. They've done Thanksgiving dinner at Missy's grandma's house. They've done Christmas dinner at Missy's house. You already know about New Year's Eve, because Ron and I both reported on LaChapelle from our own perspectives, independently. Ron's come face to face with Vera Hudson and survived the experience. According to my sister Pam, Missy has set up a pretty effective defensive perimeter, so to speak, so things aren't likely to slide for very long."

Jackson guffawed, but Cory Joe managed to keep a straight face.

"Engaged by spring would be my best assessment, Sir."

Frankfurt am Main

"Now that the others are gone, Mathurin, it is time for you to