Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Monday, August 22, 2016 08:05 EDT



Regensburg, Bavaria

    “I’m telling you, Tom, we’ve created a monster.” Rita Simpson set down her cup and made a face. “What I wouldn’t do for a cup of real coffee.”

    Across the table in their small kitchen, her husband leaned back in his chair and regarded his wife with a calm, level gaze. “I’m trying to figure out how ‘we’ comes into this. I’m not the one who took Ursula Gerisch under his wing — and I’m certainly not the one who sent her up to Grantville to discuss religion with Veleda Riddle.”

    He took a sip from his own cup. “I agree the coffee sucks. Which is not surprising since it’s not exactly coffee to begin with.”

    Rita glared at him from beneath lowered brows. “It’s your fucking church, that’s why it’s ‘we.'”

    Tom nodded. “Indeed, I am a member of the Episcopal Church — but I remind you that its official name is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. United States of America, please note. Not Europe. As churches in the here and now go, it’s something of a waif. There were never very many Episcopalians in Grantville to begin with and my father and I only added two more to the number.”

    He took another sip from the cup. “Technically, my mother’s a Unitarian, not an Episcopalian, although back up-time she probably spent more time at Dad’s church than her own — and now that’s she’s down-time she won’t go near anything that might even vaguely resemble a Unitarian congregation on account of. Well. You know. Best case scenario, she’d wind up associated with Polish Socinians — to whom she’s actually rather partial but given the current war with Poland and the fact that she’s an admiral’s wife it’s a tricky political situation. Worst case scenario she gets burned at the stake somewhere, which happened pretty often to the founders of Unitarianism in this the not-altogether-enlightened Early Modern Era.”

    Rita frowned. “Really? Unitarians got burned at the stake? For Chrissake, they’re about as milk toast as any religion gets.”

    “True — by the standards of the late twentieth century. But not today’s.” He shook his head. “History was never your strong suit, love.”

    “That’s ’cause it’s boring.”

    “How unfortunate for you, then, that you wound up living in a history book.” That came accompanied by a big grin.

    Her returning smile was sour, sour. “Very funny. What’s your point?”

    “Theologically speaking, Unitarianism can be traced all the way back to the apostolic age right after Jesus’ death. Arius was one of the founders — depending on how you look at it — and Arianism was probably the first of the great heresies. There’ve been oodles of people burned at the stake ever since if they get associated with it. The burning parties are pretty ecumenical, too. So far as I know, Luther never set a torch to a pile of kindling himself with a Unitarian perched on it, but he denounced Unitarian ideas as being responsible for the rise of Islam — ”


    “Oh, yeah. There’s a reason — bunch of ’em, actually — that I’m not a Lutheran. But moving right along, Calvin — that would be the Calvin, the one they named Calvinism after — had Michael Servetus burned at the stake in Geneva back in the middle of the last century. Not to be outdone, the Catholics had him burned in effigy a short time afterward.”

    He drained the cup, made a face, and set it down on the table. “Stuff really is crappy. Anyway, to get back to where we started, the long and the short of it is that being an American Episcopalian these days means having to deal with the Anglican Church — and given the awkward relations the USE has with England, that means in practice dickering with Archbishop Laud since he’s now in exile and is at least willing to talk to us.”

    “Like I said!” Rita’s tone was triumphant. “It’s your church.”

    “Formally speaking, yes. But I’m what you might call my father’s brand of Episcopalian. Sophisticated, progressive — at least on social issues; you don’t want to get my dad started on economics — and, most of all, relaxed on the subject of religion in general. Veleda Riddle, on the other hand — that would be the woman that you told Ursula she ought to talk to — is what my mother calls a Samurai Episcopalian.”

    Rita frowned. “Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?”

    “I think so — but Veleda Riddle does not. And therein lies the source of your current unease. Because Ursula — who is your protégé, I remind you, not mine — has returned from Grantville filled with the fanatical zeal of the convert.”

    “Who ever heard of a fanatic Episcopalian? And what would you call that, anyway? High church holy rolling?”

    They heard the door to their apartment opening. They kept it unlocked because, first, the door had no lock; second, because Tom kept procrastinating about getting a workman to install one; and, finally, because the story of what had happened to the Bavarian soldiers who got slaughtered while breaking into Tom and Rita’s apartment in Ingolstadt was by now very widespread. The odds that anyone would try to steal anything from them were so low that they didn’t really need a lock anyway.

    Julie Sims came into the kitchen, with her daughter Alexi in tow. “You wouldn’t believe what Ursula’s up to now,” she said. Her expression was a peculiar mix of amusement and something very close to horror.

    “Don’t tell me,” said Rita.

    “Of course I’m going to tell you. It’s your fault in the first place.”

    “Told ya,” said Tom.



    Elsewhere in Regensburg, the same Ursula Gerisch that Tom, Rita and Julie had been discussing was creating a different sort of ruckus. This one, of what might be called a technical-military nature, not a theological one.

    “Stefano doesn’t like the new bomb pots. He says they’re too heavy.”

    Bonnie Weaver squinted at Ursula, her expression one of unalloyed suspicion. “You can’t be that naïve, Ursula.” A spiteful part of Bonnie’s soul was tempted to add given your own history but that would just be cruel. Unfair, too. Whether the stories that Ursula had been not much better than a prostitute when Rita rescued her were true or not, it was indubitably true that since that rescue Ursula had led a life that was completely untainted by carnal excess. Religious excess, yes; whoring, no.

    Ursula frowned. “What do you mean?”

    “Oh, come on! What Stefano really cares about is that he wants Mary Tanner Barancek to stay on as his so-called ‘co-pilot’ –”

    “She is capable of piloting their airship. Pretty well. IR#8217;ve seen her myself.”

    “Fine.” Bonnie waved a rather plump hand. “Doesn’t matter how good she is as a co-pilot. The Powers-That-Be have decreed that any member of an airship crew has to be able to double in every capacity. That means bomb-handlers have to be able to fly the ship, in a pinch — and pilots and co-pilots have to be able to heave bombs overboard. However much those bombs weigh.”

    Ursula looked a bit sulky. “Those new bombs are heavy.”



    Bonnie nodded. “So they are. Just shy of fifty pounds. I’d prefer lighter bombs myself. But the problem is that we’ve run out of the smaller jugs that we originally used. And this isn’t the time and place I came from where you could just pick up the phone and order a new batch of jugs from some factory off in Philadelphia or Kansas City or wherever and have them delivered by UPS in a few days. Until we get some more of those smaller jugs, we’ve got no choice but to use the pots at hand. And if those pots make for incendiary bombs that are too big and heavy for a Size 4 girl like Mary to handle easily, so be it. We can train someone else to be the Pelican‘s co-pilot.”

    She paused for a moment and contemplated Ursula. The German woman was somewhere in her late twenties, looked to be in pretty good health — and, unlike Mary Tanner Barancek, didn’t have the usual American female obsession with her weight. She was attractive but on the heavy side, as was Bonnie herself.

    (Well, on the heavy side, anyway. Bonnie didn’t think she was as good-looking as Ursula, but she didn’t care much because one Johann Heinrich Böcler didn’t seem to.)

    “How about you?” she asked. “You could be a bombardier, if you wanted to.”

    For a moment, Ursula got a look on her face that was almost longing. For whatever reason — perhaps because she’d been rescued by an airship — Ursula adored flying. She went up in one of the airships any chance she got and whenever an airplane passed overhead she wouldn’t stop looking at it until it was out of sight.

    She shook her head. “No, it wouldn’t be right. If I were up in the air all the time I couldn’t conduct my missionary work properly.”

    Bonnie tightened her lips in order to keep herself from saying something impolitic. Like, oh… Who the hell ever heard of an Episcopalian missionary?

    But, sure enough, Ursula Gerisch was one — and surprisingly effective at it. In the short time since she’d returned from Grantville she’d already made seven or eight converts.

    What was it about down-time Germans that made them so receptive to new up-time creeds? Bonnie had heard that the Mormons were growing by leaps and bounds over in Franconia, especially in and around Bamberg. Apparently, up-time Episcopalians were different enough from down-time Anglicans that nobody — at least, no Germans — thought of them as an English church.

    Bonnie herself was a Baptist, formally speaking. But although she considered herself a Christian she was not deeply committed to any particular denomination or creed. If things continued to unfold well between her and Johann — familiarly known as “Heinz” — she’d probably eventually become a Lutheran. Just to keep peace in the family, so to speak. His father was a Lutheran pastor, and while Heinz himself shared Bonnie’s indifference to theology, he had a strong attachment to respectability. Bonnie sometimes found that trait annoying, but most of the time she didn’t. There had been aspects of West Virginia hillbilly culture that she’d never cared for at all, starting with the carousing and not-infrequent brawls at the bar located on US Route 250, not all that far from the house where she’d grown up.

    She giggled, for a moment.

    “What’s so funny?” asked Ursula.

    “Oh… I just had a flash image of Heinz in the middle of a tavern brawl.”

    Ursula’s laugh was an outright caw. “Not likely!” Smiling, she shook her head. “He is a nice man, Heinz is. Even if he won’t listen to me about the true church.”



    At that very moment, elsewhere in Regensburg, the nice man in question was feeling quite exasperated — and several times over.

    First, he was exasperated because the wainwright he was negotiating with to supply the Third Division with wagons was being pointlessly stubborn. Böcler was operating within the tight budget constraints given to him by the Third Division’s quartermaster, Major David Bartley. The offer he was making to Herr Fuhrmann was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition and the man knew it perfectly well.

    Second, he was exasperated because once again he’d had to fend off Ursula Gerisch’s continuing effort to convert him to her newly-adopted Episcopal church. There was no chance at all that Heinz would abandon the Lutheran faith he’d been brought up in. Not because he was so devoted to that creed as a matter of theological conviction, but simply because it would cause undue and unneeded stress upon his relations with his family.

    Which — point of exasperation Number Three — were already under some stress because somehow his father had discovered that he had formed an attachment of sorts with Bonnie Weaver and said father, being a conscientious pastor, was making a blasted nuisance of himself by peppering his son with letters inquiring as to the young woman’s character, faith, demeanor, parentage, education, financial prospects — you name the issue and Pastor Böcler was sure to include it in his queries.

    As if he wasn’t busy enough already!

    Which — fourth — brought him to the major, never-ending and ongoing source of his exasperation, which was the simplest of them all.

    He didn’t make enough money. Not to support a wife and family, at any rate. He knew from various remarks she’d made that Bonnie herself wasn’t particularly concerned about the matter. She had the common — quite startling — American attitude on the issue, which Heinz thought was a perfect illustration of Aesop’s fable about the ant and the grasshopper.

    The up-timers didn’t even have the excuse of not being familiar with the fable. They knew Aesop’s fables quite well, as a matter of fact. Yet they would approvingly refer to the fable in one breath and in the very next make it clear that they considered the grasshopper to be the model for their own conduct.

    The one time he’d tried to address the issue directly with Bonnie, her insouciant answer had been “the Lord will provide.”

    Baptists, they called themselves. Amazingly, it was quite a prominent creed among the Americans.

    How had they managed to survive?

    “Never mind,” he finally told Herr Fuhrmann, having come to the end of his patience. “The wheelwright, Herr Becker, is willing to accept the terms I offered. I’m sure he won’t object to the extra business of having to do a lot of wagon repair because you won’t provide me with sufficient new ones.”

    And off he went, ignoring the protests coming from behind him.



    Watching the scene through the window in a tavern across the street, David Bartley came to his decision. He’d been pondering it for days, much longer than he would have weighed a decision involving the stock market.

    In the end, that disparity was the decisive factor for him. David simply couldn’t transfer the dispassionate, even cold-blooded way he worked the stock market over to his commercial dealings with people in the flesh. He didn’t think Johann Heinrich Böcler was particularly cold-blooded either, but what the young man exemplified was the best sort of German junior official. He was hard-working and conscientious almost to a fault. Best of all — David had never had any use for so-called “hard sell” artists — while Böcler would take “no” for an answer he’d keep looking until he found someone who’d say “yes.” People didn’t discourage him the way they could so often discourage Bartley himself.



    In short, the perfect right-hand man for him. David could hire Heinz as his own employee and call him a sub-contractor for the army. No one would squawk since his salary wasn’t coming out of the military’s budget but David’s own pocket.

    Which was now deep, deep, deep. David took a great deal of pride in the uniform he wore and the contribution he was making to the war effort. The actual salary he got as a major he contributed to the soldiers’ widows and orphans fund, since he hardly needed it himself. He’d already made a fortune in the stock market and expected to continue doing so indefinitely.

    And after the war… If Heinz worked out as his quartermaster’s assistant, he’d surely have a place for him in one or another of his civilian enterprises.

    David finished his beer, paid for it, and left the tavern. By the time he got out on the street, Böcler was no longer in sight, but David wasn’t concerned. He started walking in the direction Böcler had been going when last he saw him, listening for the sound of an earnest voice engaged in bargaining.

    He’d find him soon enough. If Johann Heinrich’s parents had been Puritans instead of Lutherans, they have named him something like Reliable in the Eyes of the Lord Böcler. Or Prudence or Patience, if he’d been a girl.



    Late that day, Bonnie Weaver dropped by Rita and Tom’s apartment.

    “Have you seen Heinz?” she asked. “I’ve been looking for him all afternoon.”

    Without waiting for an invitation, she pulled out a chair and sat down at the kitchen table. There was just enough room for her because Tom had left a couple of hours ago to deal with an issue involving the artillery train. He and his men would be marching out of Regensburg themselves the next day to join the campaign against the Bavarians.

    Rita occupied her usual seat by the window — the very tiny window with a very distorted glass pane, which didn’t do much except let in some sunlight and not much of that — and Julie was sitting across from her trying to keep Alexi from fidgeting, as thankless a task as it ever was with energetic three-year-olds.

    Bonnie immediately relieved her of that burden. “Here, let her play with this,” she said. She dug into her purse and came out with a top in her hand. The toy was made of wood and was larger than most up-time versions would have been. But the biggest difference was the carving — it almost looked like a work of art.

    Alexi’s attention was immediately riveted and her hands stretched out as if driven by instinct. She already knew how to use a top so no instruction was necessary. Five seconds later she was happily contemplating the joys and delights of the laws of motion.

    “Bless you, Bonnie,” said Julie. “I was at the point where I was either going to have to take her home or — or –”

    “Don’t say it! Strangulation is really not an option, as tempting as it might sometimes be.”

    “Would you like some coffee?” Rita asked. “I can make some.”

    Bonnie gave her a look full of doubt and suspicion. “Are we talking actual coffee?”

    “Don’t be ridiculous.”

    “Didn’t think so. No, thanks.” She turned toward Julie. “I’m curious, though — you’ve been living in Grantville ever since you got back from Scotland, Julie. What’s the coffee situation back home, these days?”

    “Sucky. You can get it, usually, but it’s always expensive as hell and the quality’s pretty unpredictable.”

    “Where’s it coming from? Turkey?”

    “Most of it’s brought in by Italian merchants. I think they buy it from somewhere in the Ottoman Empire, but someone told me most of the coffee is actually grown further south. Yemen and I think Ethiopia, too.” Julie’s expression darkened. “God knows what it gets cut with along the way, though. I’ve had some so-called ‘coffee’ that I don’t want to think where it actually came from or what was really in it.”

    “How long are you planning to stay here in Regensburg?”

    Julie shrugged. “As long as Alex is campaigning in Bavaria, I figure. He’ll be close enough I might get to see him from time to time. When he was off in Poland it was hopeless so I just stayed home. In Grantville, I’ve got ready-made babysitters of the best persuasion.”

    Rita and Bonnie both grinned. “Grandparents,” said Rita. “And — lucky you — one of them’s a dentist so you don’t have to worry about that either.”

    “The best medical care’s still in Grantville, too,” Julie said. “Even with Dr. Nichols living up in Magdeburg now. For a woman with a child in the Year 1636 in our plague-and-typhoid-fever-not-to-mention-diphtheria-infested brave new world, that’s a load off.”

    “Regensburg’s not too bad that way,” Bonnie said, a bit defensively.

    Rita nodded. “It’s pretty good, actually. The sanitation practices are up to Magdeburg standards, anyway. A lot of that’s the army’s influence.”

    “Yeah, I know. That’s part of the reason I decided to move down here.”

    Bonnie cocked her head slightly. “Did you bring your rifle?”

    “Yeah, sure. I don’t go much of anywhere without it. But I doubt very much if it’ll ever come out of the case unless I go hunting.” Julie got a pious look on her face. “My days imitating Annie Oakley are over, dammit.”

    The expression got a bit haunted. “Scotland was… enough.”

    The sounds of someone entering the apartment filtered into the kitchen.

    “We’re back here!” Rita half-shouted.

    Böcler came into the room.

    “There you are!” said Bonnie. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

    Heinz had a peculiar expression on his face. “I was meeting with David Bartley. For a while. Then I decided it would be most appropriate to do this the up-time way — I asked David how it was done — and I’ve spent the past two hours negotiating with Herr Sommer.”

    “The jeweler?” asked Bonnie, frowning. “Why does the army need a jeweler?”

    Heinz shook his head. “Not the army. Me.” He took a slow, deep breath. “I have a new employer. Herr Bartley. The offer came with a large — very large — increase in remuneration. So…”

    He looked around, leaned over, and gently nudged Alexi to the side. The girl was so intent on her spinning top that she didn’t even seem to notice.

    “Herr Bartley tells me one knee is correct. If he is not right, blame him, not me — but not to his face. I do not want to lose the job.”

    He got down on one knee, reached into a pocket of his coat, and drew out an ornate little wooden box. Then, got a look of consternation on his face.

    “I forgot to ask. I am not certain which one of us is supposed to open it.”

    He offered the box to Bonnie.

    She stared at it. “Holy shit.” Then, smiled very widely. “If that’s what I think it is, Heinz, the answer’s yes.”

    “And boy are you in a world of hurt, if it’s not,” said Rita, smiling widely herself.

    When Bonnie opened the box, her smile widened still further. It threatened to split her face, in fact.

    “I recommend leaving the ‘holy shit’ part out of your report to your dad, though,” cautioned Rita. “I don’t think that’s technically blasphemy, but still…”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image