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The Wallenstein Gambit: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Wednesday, November 5, 2003 03:06 EST



    As was her own nature, the surge of sentiment made her brusque.

    "C'mon, Len! Let's quit gawking at the sights. We're supposed to be on a secret mission for Morris Roth, remember?"

    Tanner gave her a sour look. Then, bestowed a look considerably more sour on the squad of men who were following them. Lounging along behind them, it might be better to say. The four mercenary soldiers in Pappenheim's pay somehow managed to make their way across a bridge as if they were loafing in an alehouse.

    "Some 'secret' mission," he grumbled. "With those clowns in our wake. Why don't we just put on signs saying: Attention! Dangerous furriners!"

    She took him by the arm and began leading him along the bridge, toward that part of Prague known as the Staré Mìsto—which meant nothing fancier than "Old Town"—where the eastern end of the Charles Bridge abutted.

    "Jesus! Were you just as suspicious of tourist guides, too, back in your globe-trotting days? You know damn good and well—ought to, anyway, as many briefings as we had to sit through—that nobody in this day and age thinks of anybody as 'furriners.' Well. Not the way you mean it. A 'furriner' is anybody outside of your own little bailiwick. So who cares if they're 'Czech' or 'German' or 'French' or 'English'—or even 'American,' for that matter? That's the business of the princes, not the townfolk."

    By the end, she was almost grumbling the words herself. Tanner's quirks, harmless as they might be, were sometimes annoying.

    "I never trusted guide books. They don't pay the guys who write 'em to tell the truth, y'know? They pay 'em to sucker in the tourists."

    Her only response was to grip his arm tighter and march him a little faster across the bridge. And maybe tighten her lips a little.

    Stubbornly, Ellie continued her little lecture. "So nobody—except you—gives a fuck about whether we're here on a 'secret mission' or not." She jerked her head backward a little, indicating the castle behind them. "Not even Don Balthasar de Marradas gives a damn what we're doing here. If he's even noticed us at all."

    Len's good humor returned. "How's he supposed to? He's too busy squabbling with the Count of Solms-Baruth over which one of them is really the Emperor's chosen administrator for Prague. Gawd, there are time I love the butterfly effect."

    Ellie grinned. Grantville's knowledge of central European history in the 17th century was spotty and erratic, as you'd expect from the records and resources of a small town in West Virginia which had neither a college nor a business enterprise with any particular reason to develop a specialized knowledge about central Europe, even in their own time much less three or four centuries earlier. But, there were occasional exceptions to that rule, little glimpses of historical detail—like islands in a sea of obscurity—usually engendered by some individual interest of one or another of Grantville's residents.

    And, as it happened, Prague in the middle of the 17th century was one of them. That was because, some years before the Ring of Fire, Judith Roth had developed an interest in genealogy. She'd traced her ancestors back to the large Jewish community which had lived in Prague since the tenth century and had enjoyed something of a "golden age" recently due to the tolerant policies of the Austrian Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II, who'd reigned from 1576 to 1612.

    Judith's interest in genealogy had lapsed, eventually. But she'd never bothered to erase the data she'd accumulated from her home computer's hard drive. Eventually, some months after the Ring of Fire, it had occurred to her to look at it again.

    Melissa Mailey—for that matter, the entire executive branch of the US government—had practically jumped for joy. Most of the information, of course, concentrated on Jewish genealogy and history. But, as is invariably true when someone does a broad and sweeping search for data on the internet, there was a lot of other stuff mixed in with it, mostly disconnected and often-useless items of information.

    One of those little items—the one that was causing Tanner and Anderson to enjoy a moment's humor as they crossed the Charles Bridge—was that Johann Georg II, Count of Solms-Baruth and one of the Austrian emperor's top administrators, had died in the plague which swept Prague in the spring of 1632.

    But that had been in a different universe. In this one, he was very much alive a year later, in the spring of 1633. Apparently, following Gustavus Adolphus' victory at the battle of Breitenfeld in September of 1631, the influence of the newly-arrived Americans on events thereafter had been enough to send a multitude of ripples through "established history." Small ones, at the beginning, as was always true of the butterfly effect—so named after the notion that the flapping of a butterfly's wings could eventually cause a hurricane. But big enough, obviously, to allow one Count Johann Georg II to survive the disease which had felled him in another universe.

    Good for him, of course—but now, also, good for those who were secretly scheming with Wallenstein to overthrow Austrian rule in Bohemia. Because the Count of Solms-Baruth was a stubborn man, and refused to concede pre-eminence in Bohemia's administrative affairs to the Emperor's favored courtier, Don Balthasar de Marradas. The enmity between Count Johann Georg and Don Balthasar went back to 1626, apparently, when Wallenstein had selected the Count over the Don as his chief lieutenant in the campaign against the Protestant mercenary Mansfeld.

    Neither Tanner nor Ellie knew much of the details, which were as tangled as 17th century aristocratic feuds and vendettas usually were. All that mattered to them was that Solms-Baruch was tacitly on Wallenstein's side, and he was doing his level best to interfere with Marradas' ability to retain firm Austrian control over political developments in Prague and Bohemia. Which, among other things, meant that the two of them could carry out their special project in Prague—even go on side expeditions like the one which was taking them across the Charles Bridge—without any real fear of being stopped and investigated by Austrian soldiery.

    In fact, the only soldiery in sight were the four men in the squad following them—who had been given the assignment personally by Wallenstein's general Pappenheim, and had an official-looking document signed by the Count to establish their credentials should anyone think to object.

    "There are times," Ellie mused, "when the 'Machiavellian' scheming and plotting of these fucking 17th century princes and mercenary captains reminds me of the Keystone Kops more than anything else."

    Tanner came to an abrupt halt. "Think so?" He pointed a finger ahead of them, and slightly to the left. "We'll be coming to it soon, on our way to the Josefov. The Old Town Square—'Starry-mesta', the Czechs call it, or something like that. That's where Emperor Ferdinand—yup, the same shithead who's still sitting on the throne in Vienna—had twenty-seven Protestant leaders executed after the Battle of the White Mountain."

    Now he swiveled, and pointed back toward the Hradcany. "The guy who did the executing was—still is—one of the most famous executioners in history. Jan Mydlar's his name. When I was here, I saw his sword hanging in one of the museums in the Castle. They say he could lop a man's head off with one stroke, every time."

    The finger lowered slightly. "They stuck the heads on spikes, right there, all along the Charles Bridge. They left them there to rot, for years. Only took the last down maybe a year ago."

    He turned and they started walking again. In silence.

    As they neared the end of the bridge, Ellie cleared her throat. "Whatever happened to that guy? The executioner, I mean. Jan Whazzisname."

    Tanner shrugged. "Not sure. Maybe he's still alive."

    Ellie gurgled something inarticulate. Tanner gave her a sly, sidelong glance.

    "Hey, sweetheart, cheer up. The funny thing is, according to the story Mydlar was something of a Bohemian patriot himself. They say he wore a black hood that day—in mourning, so the story goes—instead of the flame-red hood he normally wore. So who knows? If he's still around, he might wind up working for us."

    "Like I said," Ellie muttered. "The Keystone Kops. Okay, sure, on steroids."



Pawn to king four

    April, 1633

    By the time the expedition finally set out for Prague, three weeks after his meeting with Mike Stearns and Wallenstein, Morris was feeling a bit more relaxed about the prospect. A bit, not much.

    What relaxation did come to him derived primarily from the presence in their party of Uriel Abrabanel. By temperament, Rebecca's uncle was less given to sedentary introspection than his brother. True, Balthazar Abrabanel had spent much of his life working as a spy also. But he was a doctor by trade and a philosopher by inclination—more in the nature of what the term "spymaster" captures.

    His brother Uriel had had no such side interests, beyond the financial dealings which were part of being a member of the far-flung Abrabanel clan and integral to his espionage. He'd spent much of his earlier life as a seaman—a "Portuguese" seaman, using the standard subterfuge of secret Jews anywhere the Spanish Inquisition might be found—and, though now in his sixties, he rode a horse as easily as he had once ridden a yardarm.

    "Oh, yes," he said cheerfully, "they're a lot of hypocrites, the English. Jews have been officially banned from the island for centuries, but they always let some of us stay around, as long as we—what's that handy American expression?—ah, yes: 'kept a low profile.' Not only did their kings and queens and dukes and earls always want Jewish doctors, but they also found us so handy to spy on the Spanish for them."

    Morris tried not to make a face. Even two years after the Ring of Fire, with the attitudes and sensibilities of one born and raised in 20th century America, he found it hard to accept the position of Jews in the 17th century. What he found harder to accept—and even more disturbing—was the readiness of Jews in his new universe to accommodate to that 17th century reality.

    Uriel must have sensed some of his distaste. "Whatever else, Morris, we must survive. And the truth is that, for all their hypocrisy, the English are no real threat to us. Not the Stuarts, nor the Tudor dynasty before them. The real enemy..."

    His voice trailed off, as Uriel studied the landscape ahead of him. His eyes were slitted, though there was really nothing in that central European countryside to warrant the hostility. By now, having skirted Saxony, they were through the low Erzgebirge mountains and beginning to enter the Bohemian plain.

    "The Habsburgs," he said, almost hissing the words. "There is the source—well, the driving engine, anyway—of Europe's bigotry in this day and age. The Austrians as much as the Spanish."

    "I would have thought you'd name the Catholic church. From what I hear, the Austrian Emperor has treated the Jewish community in Prague rather well."

    "That's because he needs their money to keep his war coffers full. As soon as the war's over, Ferdinand will treat the Jews in Prague just as savagely as he treated the Utraquists and the Unity of Brethren. Watch and see."

    Uriel shrugged. "I am not fond of the Roman Catholic church, to be sure. But then, I'm no fonder of most Protestant sects either. No Pope ever fulminated as violently against the Jews as Martin Luther. Still, religious intolerance we can live with. Being fair, it's not as if there aren't a lot of Jews who are just as intolerant. The real problem is when that intolerance gets shackled to a dynasty driving for continental power. Which, for centuries now in Europe, has meant the Habsburgs first and foremost."

    Morris glanced to his left, where a number of horsemen were escorting several large wagons. Uriel following his gaze, and a slight smile came to his face.

    "Ah, yes. The Unity of Brethren. It will certainly be interesting to see how they finally—"

    Again, he groped for an American colloquialism. Uriel was very fond of the things.

    "'Shape up,'" Morris provided.

    "Indeed so! Such a splendid expressions! 'Shape up, indeed."

    Morris shook his head ruefully. The political situation he was about to plunge into in Prague was a genuine nightmare. Since the Habsburg armies had conquered Bohemia, after the short-lived period from 1618 to 1621 during which the Bohemians had tried to install a Protestant king against Ferdinand's wishes, the Austrian Emperor had ruled the province tyrannically. In particular, he had introduced a level of brutality into religious persecution which had not been seen in Europe since the campaigns of the Spanish Duke of Alva during the first years of the Dutch revolt.

    It was said that, upon hearing the news of the Catholic victory at the Battle of the White Mountain, a priest in Vienna had taken the pulpit to urge Emperor Ferdinand II to follow the Biblical precept: Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them into pieces like a potter's vessel.

    Ferdinand had needed no urging. He was a bigot by nature, who was a genuine Catholic fanatic, not simply a monarch using the established church to further his political ends. In point of fact, it was also rumored—apparently based on good information—that Pope Urban VIII had several times tried to rein in the Habsburg emperor's religious zeal. But, to no avail. Stalin's notorious wisecrack from a later century—how many divisions has the Pope?—would have been understood perfectly by rulers of the 17th century, the Catholic ones perhaps even better than the Protestants. Like Cardinal Richelieu in France, Emperor Ferdinand felt he was simply following Christ's advice to give unto Caesar that which was Caesar's.

    And he was Caesar, and Bohemia was his, and he intended to make the most of it. Thus, he had:

    —executed dozens of Protestant noblemen who'd led the short-lived revolt;

    —banned the Utraquist and Calvinist and Hussite sects of the Protestant creed outright, and made it clear to the Lutherans that they were henceforth on a very short leash;

    —abolished elective monarchy and made the Kingdom of Hungary henceforth hereditary in the Habsburg line;

    —had the Letter of Majesty, the Bohemians' much-cherished charter of religious liberty which has been captured in the sack of Prague, sent to him in Vienna, where he personally cut it into pieces;

    —with his Edict of Restitution in 1629, seized Protestant churches and church property and gave them to the Catholic church;

    —seized the estates of "rebels," bringing into his dynasty's possession the property of over six hundred prominent Protestant families, fifty towns, and about half the entire acreage of the province;

    —allowed his soldiery—mostly Bavarians in Bohemia and Cossacks in Moravia—to ravage and plunder the peasantry and the small towns, more or less at will, thereby saving himself much of the need to actually pay his mercenaries;

    —ruined the economy of Bohemia and Moravia by severely debasing the currency in order to buy up still more estates;

    —transformed the once-prosperous peasantry and urban commoners of the region into paupers, and created a handful of great landowners to rule over them (of whom none was greater and richer than Wallenstein, ironically enough in light of current developments);




    Oh, it went on and on. True, Morris would admit—even Uriel would—Emperor Ferdinand II of Austria did not really make the roster of Great Evil Rulers of History. He just wasn't on a par with such as Tamerlane and Hitler and Stalin. But he was certainly a contender for the middleweight title of Rulers You'd Like to See Drop Dead. A narrow-minded, not overly intelligent man, who could invariably be counted on to follow the stupidest and most brutal policy offered to him by his multitude of advisers and courtiers.

    Yes, stupid as well as brutal. A stupidity which was evidenced in the fact that the mission Morris was on was designed to break Bohemia away from the Habsburg empire again—permanently, this time, if all went well—and the instrument of that break would be the very man whom Ferdinand himself had raised up from obscure origins because he was the most brutally capable mercenary captain of the day and age.

    Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein. Born in the year 1583 into a family of the minor Bohemian nobility, and orphaned at the age of 13. Today he was the greatest landowner in Bohemia—possibly in the entire Austrian empire except for Ferdinand himself—as well as the Duke of Friedland, a member of the Estate of Princes of the Empire, recognized as the Duke of Mecklenburg by the Habsburgs (if not, of course, by the Swedish king Gustav Adolf who today actually controlled Mecklenburg), and Prince of Sagan.

    Thinking about Wallenstein—and the big ladle Judith had stuffed into one of their trunks—Morris grunted.

    "What do you think of him, Uriel?"

    Abrabanel had no difficulty understanding the subject. "Wallenstein? Hard to say." He paused for a moment, marshalling his thoughts.

    "On the one hand, he is probably the most completely amoral man in the world. I doubt if there is any crime he would shrink from, if he felt it would advance his purposes."

    "No kidding." Morris scowled. "He's the stinking bastard who ordered his Croat cavalry to attack our school last year. Tried to slaughter all of our children!"

    Uriel nodded. "Indeed. On the other hand... There is a lot to be said for him, as well. It's no accident, you know, that he wound up becoming something of a folk hero in German legend."

    He barked a little laugh. "Not an unmixed admiration, of course! Still, what I can tell of reading your books from the future, the Germans came to grudgingly admire the man in the decades and centuries after his death, much as the French never stopped grudgingly admiring Napoleon. The German poet and playwright Schiller even wrote several plays—in the next century, that would be—about him. Odd, really—a Corsican folk hero for the French, and a Bohemian one for the Germans."

    The scowl was still on Morris' face. "Big deal," he said, adding somewhat unkindly: "That's just because the Frogs and the Krauts don't have too many genuine heroes to pick from."

    Uriel's easy smile came. "Such terrible chauvinism! Of course, that term does come from a French word, so I suppose there's some truth to your wisecrack. Still—"

    The smile didn't fade, but the old spy's dark eyes seem to darken still further. "Do not let your animosities get the best of you, Morris. This much is also true of Wallenstein: a peasant on one of his estates is in a better situation than peasants anywhere else in the Austrian empire. Wallenstein is shrewd enough to know when not to gouge, and he even fosters and encourages what you would call scientific farming. He opposed the Edict of Restitution and, by all accounts, is not much given—if at all, beyond the needs of diplomacy—to religious persecution. If he is amoral, he is not im-moral."

    "They say he believes in astrology," grumbled Morris.

    "Indeed, he is quite superstitious." Urial's smile broadened, becoming almost sly. "On the other hand, they also say he treats his wife very well."

    Morris grunted again. "Um. Well, okay. That's something, I guess."



    They heard the sounds of a horse nearing and twisted in their saddles to look backward. The motions were easy and relaxed, since both men were experienced riders. In Morris' case, from an adult lifetime of being an enthusiast for pack-riding; in Uriel's, from an adult lifetime which had had more in the way of rambunctious excitement—including several desperate flights on horseback across the countryside—than most city-dwelling Jews of the time ever experienced.

    The same could not be said for the man approaching them, and neither Morris nor Uriel could restrain themselves from smiling. Jason Gotkin, though in his early twenties, was not at all comfortable on horseback—and showed it. He rode his mount as gingerly, and with the same air of uncertainty, as an apprentice lion-tamer enters a lion's cage.

    Seeing their expressions, Jason flushed a little. When he finally came alongside—it might be better to say, edged his horse alongside with all the sureness of a cadet docking a boat—his words were spoken in something of a hiss.

    "Look, I was getting a degree in computer science and was trying to decide between a life spent as a software engineer or a rabbi. I was not planning to become a cowboy."

    Uriel's smile widened into a grin. Among the other uptime hobbies which Uriel had adopted since the Ring of Fire, reading westerns was one of them. He was particularly fond of Donald Hamilton, Luke Short and Louis L'Amour.

    "I should hope not! Leaving aside your pitiful manner on horseback, you can't—what's that expression?—hit the broadside of a barn. With a rifle, much less a revolver."

    "Software engineer," Jason hissed again. "Rabbi." He scowled faintly. "The average rabbi does not pack a gun. Not even in New York—and wouldn't, even if it weren't for the Sullivan Act."

    Morris' gaze slid away from Jason and drifted back toward the rear of the not-so-little caravan. There, almost at the very end, was the small group of horsemen centered around the figure of young Dunash Abrabanel. None of them rode a horse any better than Jason. But, unlike Jason, all of them were armed to the teeth. They looked like a caricature of highwaymen, in fact, they had so many firearms festooned upon their bodies and saddles.

    Morris sighed. "We're nearing Bohemian territory, if we're not already in it. They're going to have to hide the guns, Jason. Whatever Wallenstein's promises, until he carries out his rebellion Imperial law still applies."

    "Either that or agree to pretend they aren't Jews," grunted Uriel. The humor which had been on his face was gone, now. This was a sore subject with him, and one on which he and Dunash's little group had already clashed several times. Many times in his life, Uriel had passed himself off as a gentile of one sort or another—a "Portuguese seaman," most often, but he'd assumed other roles as well. Once, he'd even successfully passed himself off as a Spanish hidalgo.

    "Stupid!" he said, almost snarling. "They are no more observant—not any longer—than I am. Much less my brother Balthazar. And even in the days when we were, neither of us hesitated to do what was necessary. So why do they insist on flaunting their Jewishness, when it is pointless?"

    Morris started to sigh again, but managed to restrain himself. Jason was apprehensive enough as it was, without Morris making his own nervousness about their project apparent.

    It was hard. Even in the age from which Morris had come, the urbane and cosmopolitan world of America at the turn of the 21st century, there had been divisions between observant and non-observant Jews, leaving aside the disagreements between the various branches of Judaism. In the 17th century, those tensions were far more extreme.

    Not, perhaps, for the Ashkenazim of central and eastern Europe, cloistered as they were—corralled by the gentiles surrounding them, more properly speaking—into their tight ghettos and shtetls. There, rabbinical influence and control was powerful. Even enforced by law, since in most places—Prague being no exception—the gentile authorities gave the rabbinate jurisdiction over the members of the Jewish ghettos. But for the Sephardim, since the expulsion from Iberia, it was far more difficult. The Sephardic Jews had been scattered to the winds, and although many of them had managed to retain their traditions and customs and ritual observances, many others had not. So, the issue of how to handle non-observant Jews—any number of whom had even officially converted to Christianity—was always difficult. In practice, Amsterdam being one of the major exceptions, most Sephardic rabbis and observant communities had adopted a fairly tolerant and patient attitude.

    Morris and Judith Roth were themselves Ashkenazim, but their attitudes had far more in common with the cosmopolitan Sephardim they'd encountered since the Ring of Fire than the Ashkenazim of this day and age. And now, unwittingly, the arrival of a half-dozen modern Jews into the 17th century had introduced a new element into the equation: the 20th century ideology of Zionism.

    "Zionism," at least, using the term loosely. Not even Dunash proposed to launch a campaign to create the state of Israel in the middle of the 17th century. His own Abrabanel clan would squash any such notion instantly, since their own survival and well-being depending largely on the tolerance of the Ottoman Empire. Murad IV, the current Sultan ruling in Istanbul, bore not the slightest resemblance to Lord Balfour. "Murad the Mad," they called him, and for good reason. Though astonishingly capable for a ruler who was obviously a sociopath, one of his principal amusements was wandering about Istanbul personally executing inhabitants he discovered violating his recently-decreed hardcore Islamic regulations.

    So, the zeal of Dunash and his young comrades had been turned elsewhere. Toward the great mass of Jews living in eastern Europe, and the alleviation of their plight. They had been more enthusiastic about Wallenstein's scheme than anyone. Even Wallenstein himself, Morris suspected. If a Jewish homeland could not be created in the Levant, who was to say that somewhere in eastern Europe...

    It was a tangled mess. Morris had supported the state of Israel, was a US army veteran himself, and had no philosophical attachment to pacifism. But he also did not share Dunash's simple faith in the efficacy of violence as a way of solving political problems. In the end, he thought tolerance and a willingness to accept a compromise were far more practical methods than shooting a gun.

    Not, admittedly, that shooting a gun isn't sometimes necessary to get the other guy to accept a compromise, he reminded himself.

    He put the thought into words. "Look at it this way. Maybe having them along will help the others involved see things the right way."

    Uriel looked skeptical. "Pappenheim? And what do you propose for our next trick? Intimate a wolf with a stick?"



    Pappenheim himself came out to meet them, as they neared the outskirts of Prague. Wallenstein's chief general rode down the line of the little caravan, inspecting them coldly. Looking every bit, Morris thought...

    Like a wolf on horseback.

    There was no other way to describe him. Pappenheim was just plain scary. Melissa Mailey had a copy of C.V. Wedgwood's classic The Thirty Years War, and Morris had read the passage in it describing Pappenheim. In fact, he'd re-read the passage in the copy of the book which he now owned himself, produced by a 17th-century printing press, just before leaving on this expedition. Morris had an excellent memory, and now, watching Pappenheim trotting down the line, he called it up:

    The heaviest loss Wallenstein had suffered at Lützen was that of Pappenheim. Reckless of his men, arrogant and insubordinate, Pappenheim was nevertheless the soldier's hero: tireless, restless, the first in attack, the last in retreat. Stories of his fantastic courage were told round the camp fires and he had a legend before he was dead—the hundred scars that he boasted, the birthmark like crossed swords which glowed red when he was angry. He flashes past against that squalid background, the Rupert of the German war. His loyalty to Wallenstein, his affection and admiration, had been of greater effect in inspiring the troops than Wallenstein probably realized. The general owed his power to his control over the army alone, and the loss of Pappenheim was irreparable.

    But Pappenheim hadn't died at the battle of Lützen in this universe, because that battle had never been fought. He was still alive, still as vigorous as ever—and still Wallenstein's right hand man. Come out to meet Wallenstein himself, who was hidden in one of the covered wagons since his trip to Grantville had been kept a secret.

    Morris watched as Pappenheim exchanged a few words with Wallenstein, who had pushed aside for a moment the coverings of his wagon. Then, watched as Pappenheim inspected the rest of the caravan, examining the peculiar new allies whom Wallenstein had brought with him.

    Pappenheim spent not much time studying the men from the Unity of Brethren. Those, he was familiar with. Though now defeated and scattered, the spiritual descendants of Huss and Jan Zizka were a force to be reckoned with. One which had often, in times past, proven their capacity to break aristocratic forces on the field of battle.

    He spent more time studying Dunash Abrabanel and his little band of Jewish would-be liberators. Pappenheim wasn't exactly sneering, but there was enough in the way of arrogant condescension in his face to cause Dunash and his followers to glare at him.

    Morris decided he'd better go back there and defuse the situation. With the ease of an experienced horseman, he was soon at Pappenheim's side.

    "Is there a problem, General?" he asked, keeping his tone level and mild.

    Pappenheim swiveled to gaze at him. Up close, Morris could see the famous birthmark. It didn't really look like crossed swords, he thought. Just like another scar.

    "You are the jeweler, yes?" Since it wasn't really a question, Morris didn't reply.

    Pappenheim grunted. "There are times I think the Duke of Friedland is mad. Nor do I have his faith in astrologers. Still..."

    Suddenly, his face broke into a grin. It was a cold sort of grin, without much in the way of humor in it.

    "Who is to say? It is a mad world, after all."




    "Well, will it do?" asked Len, a bit gruffly.

    "It will do splendidly," Uriel assured him. He cocked at eye at Morris and Jason. "Yes?"

    "Oh, sure," said Morris, looking around the cavernous room that served the—small palace? mansion? it was hard to say—as something of a combination between an entry hall and a gathering place. Not for the first time, he was struck by the conspicuous consumption that was so typical of Europe's nobility of the time.

    He reminded himself that there had been plenty of conspicuous consumption by rich people in the universe they came from, also. But at least they didn't—well, not usually—have people living in hovels next door. Not to mention—

    He moved over to one of the windows and gazed out at the street beyond, almost glaring. Across the narrow passageway rose the wall of Prague's ghetto, sealing off the Jewish inhabitants from the rest of the city. The Josefov, that ghetto was called. Somewhere around fifteen thousand people teemed in its cramped quarters, the largest ghetto in Europe. It was quite possibly the largest urban concentration of Jews anywhere in the world, in the year 1633, except maybe Istanbul.

    Jason came to stand next to him. The young man's gaze seemed filled with more in the way of dread—anxiety, at least—than Morris' anger.

    Morris smiled crookedly. It was hard to blame Jason, of course. Morris could glare at the injustice embodied in that ghetto wall till the cows came home. He wasn't the one he was trying to wheedle and cajole and finagle into becoming a new rabbi for its inhabitants. A Reform rabbi-to-be, with precious little in the way of theological training, for a community which was solidly orthodox and had a long tradition of prestigious rabbis to guide them. Rabbi Loew, in fact—the one reputed by legend to have invented the golem—had been Prague's chief rabbi not so long ago. He'd died only a quarter of a century earlier.

    "They don't even use the term 'Orthodox,'" Jason muttered. "In this day and age, there's nothing 'unorthodox' to give the term any meaning. In our universe, the term didn't come into existence until after the Reform movement started in the 19th century. In the here and now, Jews are Jews. Period."

    He gave Morris a look of appeal. "They'll just declare me a heretic, Morris, and cast me out. So what's the point?"

    Morris jabbed a stiff finger at the street separating their building from the ghetto. "You're already out of the ghetto, Jason. So how can they 'cast' you out?" He glanced at the two gentiles in the room. "That's why I asked Len and Ellie to find us a place just outside of the Josefov."

    Jason gave the two people mentioned a questioning look. "Is there going to be any kind of… you, know. Trouble about this?"

    Len shrugged. "From who? Don Balthasar de Marradas? Yeah, sure, he's officially in charge here in Prague—so he says, anyway. But most of the soldiers and officials in the city are Wallenstein's people, from what Ellie and I can tell. And the ones who aren't are too pre-occupied dealing with Wallenstein to be worrying about whether a few Jews are living outside the ghetto."

    "They wouldn't know the difference anyway," added Ellie. "Not with you guys."

    She hooked a thumb in the direction of the Hradèany. "Don't think they won't learn soon enough that some more Americans have arrived. They're not that pre-occupied. Whatever else is backward about the 17th century, spying sure as hell isn't. By the end of the week—latest—Marradas will have his fucking stoolies watching you, just like they do us."

    Morris found Ellie's coarse language refreshing, for some odd reason. He was one of the few people in Grantville who'd always liked Ellie Anderson, and had never found her brash and vulgar personality off-putting. And, in their current circumstances, he thought her go-fuck-yourself attitude toward the world was probably…

    Dead on the money.

    "Dead on the money," he murmured, repeating the thought aloud. "Stop worrying, Jason. Ellie's right. They'll spy on us, but what they'll see is Americans, not Jews."

    "What about Dunash and the others?"

    Morris shrugged. "What about them? The plan is for them to find quarters in the ghetto anyway, as soon as possible. They'll be officially coming here every day to work in my new jewelry establishment. Even in the here and now, Jews are allowed out of the ghetto on legitimate business."

    "Especially when the soldiers stationed in the area to check stuff like that are hand-picked by Pappenheim," Ellie added cheerfully. "Nobody fucks with Pappenheim. I mean, nobody. The one and only time a Habsburg official gave Pappenheim a hard time since he arrived here, Pappenheim beat him half to death. The way the story goes, he dumped the fuckhead out of his chair, broke up the chair and used one of the legs to whup on him."

    Morris couldn't help smiling. Pappenheim was scary, true enough. But if there was one lesson Morris had drawn from his studies of history, it was that bureaucrats, in the end, killed more people than soldiers. Way more. If Morris had to make a choice between this century's equivalents of General Heinz Guderian and Adolf Eichmann, he'd pick Guderian any day of the week.

    No "if" about it, really. He had been given the choice, and he'd made it. Whatever new world Wallenstein and his ruthless generals made out of Bohemia and eastern Europe, Morris didn't think it could be any worse than the world the Habsburgs and their officials had made—not to mention the Polish szlachta and the Russian boyars.

    Wallenstein, whatever else, was looking to the future. He'd get rid of the second serfdom that was engulfing eastern Europe and its accompanying oppression of Jews, if for no other reason, because he wanted to build a powerful empire for himself. Of that, Mike Stearns was sure—and Morris agreed with him. Wallenstein had said nothing to Stearns—or Torstensson, Gustav Adolf's emissary in the negotiations—about his plans beyond seizing power in Bohemia and Moravia. But neither of them doubted that Wallenstein had further ambitions. He'd try to take Silesia, for a certainty—he was already the ruler of Sagan, one of the Silesian principalities—and probably other parts of Poland and the Ukraine.

    In short, he was—or hoped to be—a 17th century Napoleon in the making. That could obviously pose problems in the future. But for Morris, as for most Jews, Napoleon hadn't simply been a conqueror and a tyrant. He'd also been the man who broke Germany's surviving traits of medievalism, had granted civil rights to the Jews—and had had a short way with would-be pogromists.



    Jason was still worrying. "If they know we're Americans—even if they don't realize we're Jews—won't that cause trouble in its own right?"

    Ellie's grin was lopsided and a tad sarcastic. "Where the hell have you been for the last two years? In the here and now, people don't give a fuck about 'patriotism.' Ain't no such animal. You're loyal to a dynasty—or work for one, at least—not a country. Wallenstein's paying us the big bucks—he is, too, don't think Len and me didn't stick it to him good—and so everybody assumes we're his people."

    Morris nodded. "I don't think the word 'patriotism' has even been invented yet. She's got the right of it, Jason. The Habsburgs will be suspicious of anyone connected with Wallenstein, right now, because of the strains between them. But until and unless they're ready to move against him, they won't meddle much with us."

    "Nothing dramatic and open, anyway," added Uriel. "Though I'd keep an eye out for a stiletto in the back in dark corners. And we need to make sure we hire a trustworthy cook or we'll need to hire a food-taster." He grimaced. "Food-tasters are expensive."

    Jason gave Morris a meaningful look. Morris sighed.

    "Oh, all right, Jason. We'll start eating kosher."

    He wasn't happy about it. Still...

    The dietary restrictions of Orthodox Judaism irritated Morris, but they weren't ultimately that important to him. Compared to such things as separate seating for women in the synagogue, no driving on Shabbat, family purity laws, women not being allowed to participate in the service, the divinity of the oral law—oh, it went on and on—keeping kashrut barely made the list.

    "It's a good idea, Morris," said Jason softly. "At least that'll remove one obstacle. And the truth is, it's a safer way to eat anyway, in a time when nobody's ever heard of FDA inspectors."

    Then, he looked faintly alarmed. Morris chuckled harshly. "Yeah, I know. You can't cook worth a damn, kosher or not. Neither can I."

    Morris looked toward the bank of windows on a far wall. Somewhere beyond, over one hundred and fifty miles as the crow flies, lay Grantville—where his wife was getting ready to join him with the rest of the workforce that was moving to Prague.

    "Judith is gonna kill me," he predicted gloomily.

    "Nonsense," pronounced Uriel. "Hire cooks from the ghetto. You have no choice anyway, under existing law. It is illegal for a Jew to hire Christians servants—and you'll need servants also, living in this almost-a-palace. Or Judith will surely murder you."

    "That's a good idea," Jason chimed in eagerly. "It'll help dispel suspicions of us, too, if people from the ghetto get to know us better. If you have cooks and servants coming in and out of the house every day, as well as jewelers and gemcutters coming to the workplace..."

    Thank just made Morris feel gloomier. "Great. So now I've got to be an exhibit in a zoo, too?"

    "Yes," said Uriel firmly.

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