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The Wallenstein Gambit: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Thursday, November 27, 2003 23:23 EST




June, 1633

    "Please come in, Bishop Comenius, all of you." Morris waved his hand toward the many armchairs in the very large living room.

    Morris still thought of it as a "living room," even though he suspected that "salon" was a more appropriate term. Despite having now lived in this mansion in Prague for several months, Morris was still adjusting mentally to the reality of his new situation. Three months ago, by the standards of the 17th century, he had been a well-off man. Today, after the results reported by his partners Antonio Nasi and Gerhard Rueckert in the letter Morris had received two days earlier, he was a wealthy man—by the standards of any century.

    Seeing the entourage Comenius had brought with him and who were now filing into the room—a room that was already occupied by a large number of people—Morris was glad that the room was so enormous. It was a very proper-looking room, too, since he and Judith never used it as a "living room"—for that, they maintained a much smaller and more comfortable room on the second floor of the mansion—and the small army of servants they had recently acquired kept it spotlessly clean.

    That was another thing Morris was still trying to get accustomed to. Servants. And not just a cleaning lady who came in once a week, either, but a dozen people who came and went every day. In fact, they would have lived in the mansion except that, following Uriel and Jason's advice—which was the law, anyway—Morris had hired exclusively Jewish cooks and servants. By the laws still in force in Prague, they were required to return to the ghetto every night, just as they were required to wear distinctive insignia identifying themselves as Jews whenever they left the ghetto.

    Morris did not share the ferocious egalitarianism of such people as Gretchen Richter and her Committees of Correspondence, although he was, quietly, one of her chief financial backers. He wasn't even as egalitarian as some of the more diehard members of the United Mine Workers and their growing number of spin-off unions. Still, he found the situation somewhat embarrassing—and was growing angrier all the time at the restrictions placed on Jews in his new day and age. The restrictions were being ignored in his case, true, since Morris fell into the informal category of a "court Jew." But they still left a smoldering resentment.

    Seeing the last man filing into the salon after Bishop Comenius, Morris felt the resentment vanish.

    "Hey, Red! Long time. I was wondering if you were still alive."

    Red Sybolt squinted at him. "Hi, Morris. Oh, yeah, I'm still around. Still kicking, too." He jerked a thumb at the very large man by his side. "Hell, even Jan here is still alive, which is a real miracle given how crazy he is. Things got hairy now and then, especially in Saxony, but the worst that happened is my glasses got busted. I still haven't managed to scrounge up a new pair."

    Morris had always liked Bobby Gene "Red" Sybolt. He wasn't sure why, exactly, since on the face of it Red and he shouldn't have gotten along all that well. Just for starters, Red was one of those union activists who, though not really a socialist himself, had been influenced by socialists he'd run across in the course of his activities before the Ring of Fire. In his case, by the Socialist Workers Party, which had, off and on, had a certain presence in northern West Virginia going back to the late 1940s. One of the things Red had picked up from the SWP was a hostility toward Zionism. And while Morris had been uneasy about some of the policies of the state of Israel toward Palestinians, both he and his wife Judith had always been supporters of Israel.

    But Red was such a friendly man that it was hard for anyone to dislike him. Even Quentin Underwood, the hardnosed manager of the mine Red had worked in for a while, was known to allow that "the damn commie" was personally a decent enough fellow. And Morris knew that Red's anti-Zionism was not a veiled form of anti-Semitism. It was simply a political opposition to what Red considered a colonial-settler state. As he'd once put it to Morris:

    "Where the hell did Europe get off exporting its anti-Semitism problem onto the backs of the Arabs? I got no problem with the Jews having a homeland. Since it was the Germans massacred 'em, they should have been given Bavaria. Or Prussia. Instead, the British offered them a choice between Palestine, Kenya and Madagascar. Guess what those all have in common? Natives of the swarthy persuasion, that's what. Typical British imperialism! Lord Balfour said it all: 'We will create for ourselves a loyal Jewish Ulster in the Middle East.'"

    Morris had disagreed, of course. But it had been a friendly enough argument, as his arguments with Red usually were. And, besides, in one of those odd quirks of human personality which made the real world such an interesting place, the radical Red Sybolt had also been the only inhabitant of Grantville before the Ring of Fire except Morris himself who had been genuinely interested and knowledgeable about gems and jewelry.

    Red claimed that was due to the residual bad influence of his ex-wife; Morris suspected it was due to the residual regrets Red had concerning the life style he'd chosen for himself. The life of an itinerant union organizer and "hell-raiser" did not lead to expansive bank accounts. Red had spent many hours in Morris' jewelry store discussing gemstones, but he'd never bought so much as a single gold chain.

    "Did the faceted jewelry make as big of a splash as I told you they would?"

    Morris smiled wryly. In another of those little ironies of life, it had been Red Sybolt who brought to his attention the fact that faceted jewelry was first introduced into the world in the second half of the 17th century. Simple faceting and polishing had been done for a long time, to be sure—which meant that the needed tools and experienced workers would be available—but the art of gemcutting had not advanced much in almost two centuries. People in 1633 were still accustomed to nothing fancier than polished stones and, at most, the simple design of the "Old Single Cut" which dated back to the 15th century. The first real advance in gemcutting wouldn't come until the middle of the 17th century, with the introduction of the Mazarin Cut.

    In short, Red pointed out, Morris had had the great luck of arriving in the right place at the right time—riding just ahead of the wave. The tools and skills were in place, all that was needed was the addition of Morris' knowledge. For a few years, if he played it right, Morris and his two new partners would be in a position to make a fortune.

    So it had proved—as the letter upstairs verified. It had taken Morris and his partners a year before they could begin producing modern-style faceted gems. Morris knew the theory, yes; but he had the skills of an uptime jeweler, which was not the same thing as an experienced gemcutter. They'd had to hire and train 17th century jewelers, which had taken time. Fortunately, two of the jewelers they'd taken on had turned out to be very adept at grasping the new ideas. So adept that both of them had been given hefty shares of stock in the company, lest they become disgruntled and take their skills elsewhere.

    "Yes, you were right." Morris grinned. "Sure you don't want some stock? My offer's still good."

    Red shook his head fiercely. "Get thee behind me, Satan! Me? What kind of respectable agitator owns stock in a company which is no doubt plunderin' the poor?" But he was smiling as he said it, and, after seating himself in one of the expensive armchairs, luxuriated visibly in its comfort.

    "Okay," he admitted, "plunderin' the idle rich is probably more accurate. Still, I wouldn't feel comfortable with it." He gave Morris a near-sighted squint. "Mind you, I will expect some hefty donations to the cause."

    Morris looked around the room, all of whose inhabitants except him were now seated. "Which cause, Red?" he asked mildly. "I see at least... what is it? Four or five present."

    Red's smile widened. "Bit of a problem, isn't it?" His own eyes moved across the room, and if he was near-sighted and without glasses, he seemed to have no problem at all assessing its occupants.

    "Yup, quite a collection. You got your CoC—that's me—your Brethren, and I figure at least three different varieties of Zionism. Not to mention the other budding exploiters of the downtrodden—hey, Len, Ellie, how's it going?—and, lounging just outside the front door, I figure at least two flavors of military dictatorship we poor lambs seem to have allied ourselves with. Three, if you count that pig Holk, even though he's too stupid to even make a respectable fascist."



    At the mention of Holk, Morris grimaced. So did Jan Billek.

    "His troops have been ravaging northern Bohemia just as badly as they did Saxony," Jan growled, in his heavily-accented English. "Even though they are supposed to be 'protecting' it."

    Morris had no trouble believing him. In preparation for his relocation to Prague, he'd studied what he could find in Grantville's libraries as well as Judith's genealogical data. One of Grantville's bibliophiles had donated a copy of some plays written by the 18th century German writer Schiller. Morris had read the following passage in one of them, Wallenstein's Camp:



    In Bayreuth, in the Vogtland, in Westphalia;

    Wherever we have survived—

    Our children and grandchildren,

    Will still be telling stories,

    After hundreds and hundreds of years,

    About Holk and his hordes.



    Heinrich Holk was one of the major military commanders of the Habsburg forces now stationed in Bohemia. He was the worst type of condottiere in the Thirty Years War—a breed of men who were none too savory to begin with. A one-eyed, primitive, drunken mass murderer; a scourge who persecuted and mistreated the people he was charged with protecting; and a dishonor to the imperial army. Holk, born into the family of a Danish Protestant official, had not only changed his allegiance several times during the course of the Thirty Years War, but also his faith—which, admittedly, was nothing especially unusual for the time. Wallenstein had done the same, early in his career, converting from his native Protestantism to Catholicism in order to ingratiate himself with the Habsburgs.

    Unlike Wallenstein or such men as Tilly and Pappenheim, however, Holk did not have any significant victories to his credit. His military prowess was demonstrated only by raids, plundering and atrocities, and he had been defeated on several occasions—by Wilhelm Christian of Brandenburg near Magdeburg, in 1630; later the same year by the Swedes near Demmin; and again by the Swedes at Werben in 1631. Not to mention that Holk had failed to bring his troops to meet Tilly's in time for the battle of Breitenfeld, which had been partly responsible for Tilly's defeat there at the hands of Gustavus Adolphus.

    Unfortunately, Holk's services were much in demand, because whatever his multitude of faults Holk was also a thoroughly competent commander in the major criterion by which that was usually judged in the Thirty Years War: he could hold together a random heap of mercenaries with consistent firmness. But he did so by making his army a refuge for the dregs of loot-hungry, brutal soldiery.

    Morris was still a bit mystified why Wallenstein accepted the crude Holk as one of his top subordinates. As a rule, Wallenstein was a better judge of men—at least their capabilities, if not their morality. Morris thought it was probably due to the simple fact that Holk seemed to admire Wallenstein, which he demonstrated by imitating his master in Holk's own gross and coarse manner. Like Wallenstein, he threatened to punish people "through taking them by the head"—which meant hanging them, in the slang of the time. And when a subordinate reacted sluggishly to orders, Holk accused him of having the "inborn speed of Saturn"—another one of Wallenstein's favorite expressions.

    Morris knew that in the history of the universe they had come from, after Pappenheim's death at the battle of Lutzen, Holk had become Wallenstein's prime factotum. Whatever else, Wallenstein had been able to assign tasks to Holk with the certain knowledge that whatever could be done by harshness, ruthlessness, and blind obedience would be done well. Or thoroughly, at least. But without Pappenheim's ability to generate genuine loyalty in the army, and Pappenheim's sense of strategy, Wallenstein had soon fallen foul of the Byzantine factionalism within the Habsburg forces. Not that Wallenstein hadn't been guilty of the same factionalism himself, of course—but with Holk instead of Pappenheim to rely on, he had been outmatched.

    "What's Wallenstein going to do about him?" demanded Red. "If this keeps up, Morris, there won't be much left of northern Bohemia. Wallenstein—there, at least—will be 'King of Nothing.'"

    Morris almost snarled: Why ask ME?

    But he didn't, because he knew the answer, as much as it discomfited him. In the months since he'd arrived, Morris had indeed become Wallenstein's "court Jew." It was an odd and informal position, but one which was not all that uncommon in the Europe of the day. Despite all the restrictions and sometimes-savage persecution of Jews, most of the European courts had a few wealthy and prominent Jews in their entourage. For the most part, of course, that was because Jewish money and medical skill was wanted by Europe's monarchs and high nobility. But there was more to it than that, at least for some of Europe's Christian rulers, especially the smartest ones. Being "outside the loop," their Jewish courtiers could often be relied upon for better and more objective advice. Queen Elizabeth of England, when she'd been on the throne, had often consulted with her Jewish doctor Roderigo Lopez on her diplomatic as well as medical affairs.

    And... From what Morris could tell, Wallenstein even seemed to like him. It was hard to be sure, of course, with a man like Wallenstein. But Edith Wild had told Morris that Wallenstein spoke well of him in private. And Edith—talk about miracles!—had somehow managed to become one of the few people whom Wallenstein trusted. Edith herself thought that was because, after an initial period of hesitation—even veiled hostility—Wallenstein's wife had taken a liking to her. If not for her own sake, then because Edith was keeping her husband alive. And, in fact, under Edith's bullying regimen, Wallenstein's shaky health had improved. Rather dramatically, in fact. Edith even managed to intimidate Wallenstein's pestiferous astrologers into not contradicting her medical and dietary advice. (And there was a true miracle. 17th century astrologers, as a rule, made the "snake-oil salesmen" of Morris' time look like downright saints and wise men.) Finally—oh, the world was a wondrous place—it had turned out that Wallenstein had developed a fanatic enthusiasm for the multitude of Agatha Christie mysteries which Edith had brought with her to Prague. All that keeps me alive! he'd once sworn to Morris, to all appearances dead seriously.

    "I'll talk to him," Morris said gruffly. "Though I'm not sure if he'll listen."

    "What is he up to, anyway?" Red asked. "There are rumors flying all over, but nobody really knows what he's planning."

    Morris shrugged. "Don't ask me. Uriel might be able to give you a good educated guess, but he had to go back to Grantville on mysterious business of his own. Whenever I ask—very diffidently, let me tell you—Wallenstein just gets grimmer than usual and more or less tells me to mind my own business. 'Soon,' is all he'll say."

    Morris had been about to sit down himself, but instead he moved over to one of the windows and gazed up at the Hradèany across the river. He couldn't see Wallenstein's own palace, from here, since it was perched in the Malá Strana at the bottom of the hill instead of the summit. But Saint Vitus Cathedral, which dominate the Hradèany, always reminded him of Wallenstein. For all of Wallenstein's forward-looking temperament, there was ultimately something Gothic about the man.

    Ellie Anderson seemed to be sharing his thoughts. "Fucking vampire," he heard her mutter.

    For some odd reason, the image of Wallenstein lurking in his palace like Count Dracula cheered Morris up. Granted, Dracula was a monster. But at least he wasn't stupid.



    Morris turned away from the window. "Enough of that. Wallenstein will do whatever he'll do, and whenever he chooses to do it. We have no control over that, so let's concentrate on what we can control. Influence, at least."

    He knew why Comenius and Billek had come. Comenius, to pay his official regards, since the central figure in the church of the Brethren had just arrived in Prague. But he was really here to lend his authority to Jan Billek—and Red's—long-standing proposal with regard to the paramilitary forces which were being quietly organized to support Wallenstein when the time came.

    Morris had wrestled with his decision for days. More precisely, he had wrestled with his reluctance to have a confrontation with his own people. But, now, the decision came into clear and hard focus. He braced himself for a brawl.

    "Red and Billek are right, Dunash. Your people and those of the Brethren should form a joint unit. It's stupid to do otherwise."

    Dunash Abrabanel shot to his feet. "Our interests will be pushed aside—as always!"

    "Shut up, you—" Morris caught himself, almost laughing, before he added: young whippersnapper!

    Still, his jaws were tight. "What the hell do you know about it, Abrabanel?" He glared at Dunash and the young Jews sitting around him—all except Jason Gotkin, the only young uptime Jew in their midst, who was seated off to the side, a bit isolated from the others.

    "What do any of you know about military affairs?" Morris demanded. "In the world I came from, the worst enemy the Jewish people ever faced was not defeated by Israel. Nor could he have been, even if Israel had existed at the time. He was defeated by the great armies of the United States, England and Russia—all of whom had Jews serving in them. The Russians, especially. There were over two hundred Jewish generals in the Red Army. Berlin was first penetrated by Russian soldiers under the command of one of them—and Auschwitz was liberated by another."

    He lapsed into one of his rare uses of profanity. "So shut the fuck up! Not one of you has any real idea what to do with those guns you festoon yourselves with, like a bunch of would-be bandidos. I leave aside what Pappenheim had to say."

    The one and only time that Pappenheim had observed Dunash's band of youngsters attempting what they called a "military exercise," his comments had been vulgar, brief and to the point. Most of which he had uttered as he trotted his horse away, shaking his head in disgust.

    "Look, Dunash, he's right," said Red mildly. "The truth is, the Brethren aren't really what you'd call 'seasoned soldiers,' either. But at least they're familiar with firearms, and a lot of them have seen some actual fighting. Most of all—" He hesitated a moment, gauging Dunash's temper. "Most of all, they aren't arrogant."

    He left unspoken the obvious implication: like you are. "That's why they've agreed to let some of Wallenstein's officers train them."

    Dunash said nothing, but his jaws were even tighter than Morris' felt. Red kept on, talking smoothly. Morris decided to let him handle it. Whatever Morris sometimes thought of Red's political opinions, the fact remained that Red—not Morris—was the experienced organizer in the group.

    "Look, I'm not too fond of the situation either. Neither is Jan or any of the Brethren. But the truth is that Wallenstein—probably Pappenheim, actually—seems to have been careful in their selection of officers. They're really not too bad."

    Jan Billek nodded. "Two are quite good. I even have hopes of converting one of them."

    "And look on the bright side," Red continued. "Officers be damned. We'll be the grunts with the actual guns in our hands, if push comes to shove. Neither Wallenstein nor Pappenheim—sure as hell not the officers directly over us—have any doubt at all what'll happen if they order us to do something we don't want to do."

    He and Jan exchanged a meaningful glance. Morris' anger faded, replaced by his earlier good humor. "Ha!" he barked. "Red, should I start calling you 'commissar'?"

    Red smiled a little sheepishly. "Well... the word doesn't mean anything, in the here and now. But, yeah." He gave Billek another glance. "Actually, you oughta apply the title to Jan. He's really the one all the Brethren soldiers listen to."

    Jan's face was stolid, but Morris thought he detected a little gleam somewhere in the back of his eyes. "Indeed," he said. "And why should they not? Good Brethren, so they understand the difference between 'orders' and 'what should be done.'"

    Suddenly, to Morris' surprise, Jason Gotkin spoke up. "Do it, Dunash. They're right and you're wrong—and the truth is, I think it'll help you recruit more Jews from the ghetto, anyway."

    Dunash seemed to be even more surprised that Morris was.

    "How so? An exclusively Jewish force—"

    "Will seem crazy to them," Jason interrupted forcefully. "Cut it out, Dunash. How many have you managed to recruit so far, since you've been here? All of five, I believe—three of whom are orphans, two of those too young to use a gun—and of the other two, one of them is not much more than the village idiot. You know as well as I do that the only recruit you've gotten in three months who'll be any use is Bezalel Feigele."

    Jason's eyes examined the eight young men sitting around Dunash. "At that rate—one real recruit every three months—you won't be able to field more than a squad when the balloon goes up. What's the point?"

    "We have special weapons!" one of Dunash's followers said stoutly.

    Morris had to find down a sneer. Red didn't even bother. "Oh, swell. 'Special weapons.' Which translates to: maybe three dozen rockets you got smuggled into Prague, supplied by sympathizers in Grantville—do notice that I'm not inquiring as to the particulars, but I somehow doubt that Mike Stearns or Frank Jackson authorized that—and none of which you really know how to use."

    "Do you?" demanded Dunash.

    "Me? Don't be silly. Rockets are dangerous. Besides, I'm a man of peace. Well, a man of words, anyway. But I know someone who does know how to use them, and he happens to be a friend of mine—well, associate—and he's willing to come here for a bit and teach us. I hope you noticed the functioning pronoun there. Us."

    Red leaned back in his seat, spreading his hands in something of a placating gesture. "Dunash, if it'll make you feel better, you and your guys can stay in charge of the rockets. As well as that pickup truck that you've also managed to smuggle into this city, piece by piece, to use as a jury-rigged katyusha—a truck which you have no fricking idea in the world how to assemble. Or drive, even if you did manage by some kinda miracle to put it back together in working order."

    Red looked smug. "I, on the other hand, am a crackerjack auto mechanic. I've rebuilt more cars and trucks than I can remember. And I do know how to drive."

    "In a manner of speaking," Morris muttered under his breath. He'd driven with Red, on two occasions in the past. And while the union organizer wasn't quite as reckless as the now-infamous Hans Richter, riding in the passenger seat of a vehicle driven by Red Sybolt was no pleasure for anyone other than a daredevil. Or teenagers, among whom Red had always been surprisingly popular for a man in his forties.

    "That's the deal, Dunash," Red went on. "You can keep the rockets, and I'll volunteer to show you how to put together the truck—even get you some fuel, which you haven't given any thought to at all. And I'll drive it for you when the time comes. But you give up the idea of a separate Jewish combat unit and integrate yourselves with us."

    Dunash was still looking stubborn, but his cousin Yehuda spoke up. "Who is 'us,' exactly?"

    Red hooked a thumb at Billek. "The Brethren, mostly, other than some people from the CoC we've managed to get started here in Prague. By now, me and Jan—mostly him—have managed to recruit about four thousand volunteers from the Brethren. Half of them are already in Prague, with the others on the way."

    Four thousand. Red let the words hang in the air, for a moment. Four thousand—as opposed to Dunash Abrabanel's handful. For that matter, Morris didn't doubt for a minute that Red would provide more people from his newly-organized CoC than Dunash had following him. Say what you would about Red Sybolt, the man was a superb organizer.

    "We will be buried," hissed Dunash.

    For the first time since he'd entered the room, Bishop Comenius spoke. "No, you will not be 'buried,' young man. I give you my word on that. My oath before God, if you will accept it."

    Comenius was, by nature, an immensely dignified man, and even Dunash was visibly affected by his words. The more so after the Bishop rose to his feet.

    "I am recognized by all the Brethren as the foremost religious authority in our church." To the side, Deacon Billek nodded firmly. "Tolerance was one of our watchwords from the beginning of our faith. And now that I have had a chance to study what would have happened in the world of our future, my faith has been fortified."

    He turned and pointed to Len Tanner and Ellie Anderson. Then, to Morris himself; then, to Jason; and finally, to Red Sybolt. "Consider, if you will, these five people. One, a Catholic noted for his lapses; two, a man and a woman who believe in no God at all; one, a Jew who is considered a heretic by most other Jews living today; the last, a young Jew who is trying to decide whether he can be a rabbi in these times, because he is no longer sure exactly what he believes."

    Morris was astonished by Comenius' accurate assessment of five American strangers whom he had never met before. Obviously, the Brethren (with Red's help) had an excellent espionage service in all but name. True, it wasn't quite accurate. Except for a few places like Amsterdam, most rabbis were loath to proclaim someone an actual "heretic," since Jews didn't place the same emphasis as Christians did on doctrinal purity. What most of them would have said about Morris was that he was "practically an apicoros"—an uncomplimentary term indicating someone who was much too loose and self-willed in his interpretation and application of customs and observances.

    "Yet in the world they came from," Comenius continued, "it was people such as this who built a nation which, in the fullness of time, provided a sanctuary for my people as well as yours. Most of the world's Brethren wound up living in that 'United States,' as did the single largest grouping of the world's Jews. There is a lesson there for any of God's children, in whatever manner they see that God. Unless you are blind. Which I am not. Freedom of religion must be the banner for both of us—a banner which, by its nature, must be held jointly."

    He sat down. "That is my pledge—and the pledge of the Unity of Brethren. You will not be 'buried.' Unless you are buried by our enemies, along with us ourselves."

    The decision hung in the balance. Then—and this surprised Morris more than anything that happened that morning—Dunash turned to Jason.

    "You will be our rabbi, if anyone is to be. You are sure of this?"

    Jason was obviously as startled as Morris was. But he still managed to nod as firmly as Billek.

    "Yes, Dunash. It's—ah—kosher."





    Over dinner, Comenius raised the subject which Morris had suspected was his primary reason for coming. Normally, he would have had to suppress a sigh, but in this instance…

    Rich, remember. You are now stinking rich, Morris Roth, so stop thinking like a small town jeweler. Judging from the letter I got from Antonio and Gerhard—and I think they're right—within five years I'll be one of the richest men in Europe. Especially if I divest and diversify intelligently. Our monopoly on faceted jewelry will bring us a fortune for a few years, but it won't last.

    "Yes, Bishop, I will finance your proposed university."

    The words came out more abruptly—even curtly—than Morris had intended. The thought of his new wealth still made him feel awkward and out of place. The last thing Morris Roth had ever expected, in all the years he'd spent as the jeweler for a small town in northern West Virginia, was that someday, in another universe, he'd become the equivalent of the founder of a new house of Rothschild.

    Comenius looked a bit startled. "How big—I mean…"

    Morris smiled wryly. "How big a donation? If you give me two months—let's say three, to be on the safe side—to have the funds transferred, I can finance the entire thing. Enough to get it started, at least. I assume you intend to locate the new university here in Prague, yes?" He shifted in his seat, feeling awkward again. "There will be some conditions, however."

    "Of course." Comenius inclined his head, inviting Morris to elaborate.

    "First. I'll agree to have theological schools attached to the university, so long as there are no restrictions with regard to creed. That will include a Jewish rabbinical seminary."

    He looked over at Jason, whose expression was a little strained. Forcefully, Morris added: "Yes, I know the rabbis currently in Prague will probably want no part of it. That's their problem, not mine. If they want to stick to their yeshivahs, so be it. Even if it's nothing more than a plaque on a door, with nothing behind the door, I want some building in the university—or part of one, anyway—set aside for that purpose."

    He turned back to Comenius. "But the university itself will be secular. Open to anyone, regardless of creed, and unaffiliated to any religion. Agreed?"

    Comenius nodded. "Yes. But that still leaves the question of how the theological schools themselves will be regulated. Herr Roth—"

    "Please, call me Morris."

    "Ah, Morris. You will find it difficult—perhaps not impossible, but difficult—to find anyone who can serve as the regulating authority of this university who is not affiliated, in one manner or another, with an existing creed. Most of the scholars in—ah, how strange the thought—in 'this day and age' are religious figures." Comenius hesitated a moment. "Unless you choose to select someone from your own people."

    Morris chewed on the problem, for a moment. He considered, and then discarded, various possibilities from the American uptimers. The problem was that any of them he could think of who'd be qualified, even remotely, to become a university president—or "Rector," to use the 17th century term—were overwhelmed already with other responsibilities. And if any of them were available, the top priority anyway would be the new university which was taking shape in Jena, which was, after all, part of the CPE rather than a foreign country.

    "No…" he said slowly. "It'll have to be someone from this day and age."

    Comenius nodded again. "So I thought. But, as I said, such a person will most likely be affiliated already with one or another creed. If they have authority over the theological schools…"

    Morris grunted. "Yes, I understand the problem. Fine. We'll set it up so that the religious schools have complete control over their own curriculum and methods of instruction. They'll also have complete control over hiring and firing their teachers. The only authority the university will have over them will involve such things as the building code, fire regulations, sanitation, and so forth. How's that?"

    Comenius looked a bit dubious. "Workable, perhaps. There will still be a great deal of suspicion."

    Morris had to restrain himself from slapping his hand on the table. There were things he liked about 17th century Europeans. Most of them, anyway. There were also some things he detested. One of them was their seemingly inveterate and obsessive religious sectarianism.

    "Let them be suspicious," he growled. "The way I look at it, Bishop, the main point of this university—one of them, at least—is to start overcoming those suspicions. In practice, which is always the best way to do it."

    He gave Comenius something just barely short of a glare. "Understand something, Bishop. I know a secular university will work—and way better than the alternatives you have today. I know it—because I've seen it. My own kids went to West Virginia University, which was a far better university than anything you've got in Europe today. And in the world I come from, WVU was just considered a middling-rate university."

    Judith interjected herself. "Morris, don't be so hardnosed. A lot of those universities got started as religious ones, remember. Including Harvard and the University of Chicago, if I remember right."

    Morris suspected he was looking mulish, and the suspicion made him still more mulish. "Yeah, I know. I also know how long it took to haul them kicking and screaming into the modern world. Harvard didn't even go co-educational until—"

    He broke off, rubbing his face. "Oh, hell, don't tell me."

    Comenius' brow was creased with a frown of confusion. "I am afraid my English is perhaps not as good as it should be. What does that term mean? 'Co-educational,' I think it was."

    Morris glared at the table. "Well, that's the second thing…"



    Eventually, they got past that hurdle. But only because Morris finally agreed—under Judith's coaxing—that the university would have two colleges, one for men and one for women, with separate faculties. He did manage to hold the line on a common curriculum—"I want women educated, damn it; I'm not shelling out money for a lousy finishing school"—as well as a common library. And he took a certain sly pleasure in having gotten Comenius to agree to a co-educational "student union"—mostly, he suspected, because Comenius didn't quite understand what was involved.

    That would be a fight in the future, he was sure, but Morris was willing to deal with that when the time came. Somewhere in the middle of construction, he suspected, once Comenius finally realized that Morris proposed to have young men and women socializing and dining together at all hours of the day and night with no real supervision or chaperonage. But since Morris would control the purse strings, he imagined the construction workers would obey him.



    The rest of it went smoothly enough. They settled on the name "University of Prague," which wasn't a problem since the only existing university in the city was named the Karolinum—or "Charles University"—founded in the 14th century by the same Emperor Charles who'd had the city's great bridge erected. The Karolinum was located in the southern part of Staré Mĕsto, so they agreed to find land for the new university somewhere in the northern part of Old Town, even though that would be somewhat more expensive. Morris was pretty sure that a certain amount of friction between the two universities was bound to happen. The Karolinum was no "cow college." Even after the ravages of the past fifteen years, it was still considered one of the premier universities in Europe. In the long run, he thought having two major universities in Prague would simply enhance the city's prestige—and its prospects. But in the short run, competition between the two universities was likely to be a source of trouble. He saw no reason to aggravate the situation by placing them cheek-to-jowl.

    Besides, a location in the northern part of Old Town would have the further advantage, to his way of thinking, of being close to the Josefov. Already, in the few short months since he'd become resident in Prague, Morris had come to realize that the Jewish inhabitants were going to be at least as resistant to change as the gentile ones. In some ways, more so, even in ways which objectively benefited them. Morris thought that having a university open to Jewish students just a short walk from the ghetto would have a nicely subversive effect.

    Of all the things he missed about the universe they'd lost forever, the thing he missed the most was the atmosphere in his old synagogue and the Hillel House attached to the campus at WVU. That relaxed, sophisticated, cosmopolitan modern Judaism that he'd grown up with and cherished. He knew that Jason had come to have a real respect for some of the orthodox rabbis he'd encountered in Prague's ghetto. But, to Morris, they were as much a part of the problem as the Cossack butchers who would soon enough be slaughtering tens of thousands of Jews in the Ukraine. Their stiff necks bent over, endlessly studying the complexities of the Torah and the Talmud and the midrash, completely oblivious to the disaster which was beginning to curl over them. Morris had every intention of undermining their control and authority over the largest Jewish community in Europe, as best he could, using any legitimate means at his disposal.



    Comenius had tentatively advanced the idea of naming it "Roth University," but Morris declined the honor immediately. He said that was because he thought it would create unnecessary problems by having the university too closely associated with its Jewish founder. But the real reason was simply that he found the idea too self-aggrandizing and presumptuous. In times past, in the universe he'd come from, he'd been known to make wisecracks about the swelled egos of the men who'd founded "Carnegie-Mellon Institute."

    Judith had given him something of an odd look, then. Morris wasn't sure—he'd find out soon enough, of course, once they were alone—but he thought he was probably in for a little lecture on the subject of false modesty.

    So be it. In times to come, he might get comfortable enough with his new status to consider the possibility. Morris had a feeling this was not going to be the last university he provided the financial backing for—assuming, of course, he and Judith survived the years to come. If this new world had greater opportunities than his old one, it also had much greater dangers.

    The last item remaining was the first: who would they find to become the Rector of the new university?

    By the end of the evening—quite a bit early on, in fact—Morris had already made up his own mind. So as soon as Comenius raised the subject again, he had his answer ready.

    "I think it should be you, Bishop."

    Comenius, startled, began to say something by way of protest. Morris raised his hand.

    "Hear me out, please. Yes, I know you're the central leader of the Unity of Brethren, recognized as such all over Europe. You're also famous for being an advocate of educational reform. To the best of my knowledge, you're the only person in this day and age who's actually written books on the subject. Well, okay, outside of the Jesuits. But while I'm perfectly willing for the new university to have Catholic students—Jesuit teachers, for that matter—there's no way I want a Jesuit in charge of it. Not in today's political climate, anyway. So I think it makes perfect sense for you to do it. As far as the religious issue goes..."

    Morris shrugged. "You said it yourself, Bishop—we'll face that with almost anyone we select. The advantage to it being you is twofold. First, you've become just about as well-known for advocating religious tolerance. And secondly—not to put too fine a point on it—but the Brethren are a relatively small church. Certainly compared to the Catholics or the Lutherans or the Calvinists. So you won't seem as much of a threat to anyone, even leaving aside your own views on toleration."

    Comenius was still hesitant. Morris regarded him for a moment, and then added: "And, finally. I think you and I can get along pretty well. Better than I think I'd get along with anyone else."

    Comenius stared at him for a moment. Then, with a wry little smile, inclined his head. "So be it, then. I can hardly refuse, since without you none of this would be possible at all."

    Judith was giving Morris that same odd little look. This time, he understood it completely.

    Okay, fine. Yes, I'll have to get used to it. But I draw the line at the "Baron" business. I am NOT a Rothschild. Just a Roth.





    After dinner, most of the guests left. The only ones who remained behind, at Morris' quietly-spoken request, were Ellie Anderson and Len Tanner.

    "So. Why'd you ask us to stay, Morris?" Ellie's question was asked with a tone of voice that indicated a certain suspicion on her part. Of course, Ellie was usually a little suspicious of most things.

    In this case, however, with good reason.

    "That's why I asked, as a matter of fact. I'm hoping to talk you into staying."

    For a moment, both Len and Ellie looked at a little confused. Then, as his meaning registered, Ellie gave Len a quick, almost hostile little glance.

    "Did you put him up to this?" she demanded.

    Len looked aggrieved. "I had nothing to do with it! This is the first time Morris has ever raised the subject."

    Morris found the interchange both interesting and heartening. He'd had no idea that Len had given some thought himself to remaining in Prague.

    "He's telling the truth, Ellie. This is the first time I've ever brought it up."

    Ellie transferred the hostile look to him. "The answer's 'no.' Prague's okay, I guess, but I have no intention of staying here after we get this job done."

    "Why not?" Judith asked. "It's not as if you have any family in Grantville." Diplomatically, she did not add what she could have: or all that many friends either, when you get right down to it. Ellie's abrasive manner didn't bother either of the Roths, but the woman's temperament was not one which had ever made her very popular.

    Diplomacy, as usual, was wasted with Ellie. "Or any friends either," she snorted, half-barking the words. "So what? Grantville has toilet paper."

    Len made a face. Ellie scowled. "Okay, fine. It's that crappy stuff that they're starting to make in Badenburg which is all there is since the modern stuff ran out. So what? It's still toilet paper and it still beats the alternatives."

    She raised her left hand and began ticking off fingers. "Two. It's got modern plumbing. Fuck squatting over a hole. Here, even in Wallenstein's palace, that's about all you've got. Three. It's got electricity—I am so sick and tired of reading by lamplight at night."

    "Prague will have all of those things before too long, Ellie," Morris said mildly. "And if it really bothers you that much, import what you need in the meantime."

    "With what money?" she demanded. "AT&L is still scraping by and will be for at least another year. We can't even afford to pay Dougie to start running the company full time, which is a fucking waste because he'd be great at it. Instead, half the time he's galloping off into the countryside somewhere running messages for the King of Sweden. He'll get killed, you watch. If Wallenstein hadn't come up with the dough for this special project here in Prague, I'm not sure we wouldn't have had to close our doors. That's the only reason Len and I agreed to come here at all. We didn't have any choice."

    "With what money? With the sudden influx of money you'll get from me. From the new company—or subsidiary, if you prefer—that I propose to form here in Prague. Call it AT&L Bohemia, if you want. I'll put up all the capital and you give me 49% of the stock—you can remain in control of it, I don't care—and agree to live here for another, say, five years. If you're still unhappy five years from now, fine. You go back to Grantville, if you want. No hard feelings."

    Ellie and Len stared at him. Morris found himself swallowing. "Me and Judith would miss you guys. We really would. Right now, except for the two of you and Jason, we really don't have anybody to talk to here in Prague who... You know. Understands us."

    "How long do you plan on being here, Morris?" asked Len.

    Morris and Judith looked at each other. Judith shrugged. "Who knows?" she mused. "Either a very short time—if Wallenstein's plans go sour and we wind up having to run for it—or... probably the rest of our lives. Except for trips."

    Morris rose from the table and went over to one of the windows. Pushing aside the heavy drapes, he stared out over the city. At night, in the 17th century, even a large town like Prague was eerily dark to someone accustomed to American cities at the turn of the 21st century. A few lamps in windows, here and there, one or two small bonfires in open areas, not much more than that. The Hradèany, at a distance, was just a formless lump of darkness, with the towers of the cathedral barely visible against the night sky.

    "We've got fifteen years to prevent one the worst massacres ever perpetrated on my people," Morris said quietly. "And I'm just a small town jeweler who really doesn't have any idea how to do it—except, maybe, do what I can to turn Bohemia into a country which can start drawing those Jews—some of them, anyway—out of the line of fire. And, maybe—most of this is completely out of our control—help built this into a nation which can intervene ahead of time."

    "You're talking about Wallenstein, Morris," Ellie pointed out harshly.

    Morris' lips twisted into something that was half a grin, half a grimace. "Ah, yes. Wallenstein. Actually, this was his idea in the first place. Trying to get you to stay here and set up a telephone company, I mean. Just like I know when I go talk to him tomorrow about the new university the Bishop and I want to establish that he'll agree immediately. That's an idea he's also raised with me, on several occasions."

    He turned away from the window. "In fact, I won't be surprised if he provides the land and the building for both projects, free of charge—assuming you agree to stay."

    Len and Ellie were back to staring at him. "Look," Morris said abruptly, "Wallenstein wants it all—a modern nation which will give him the power he needs to become the historical figure he thinks he deserves to be. In some ways, he's a raving egotist, sure enough. But he's smart. Bohemia is not big enough for him, unless he modernizes it. That means the whole works. An electrified capital city, one of the world's premier universities, factories, you name it—yes, and toilet paper. Why else do you think he's agreed to remove all religious restrictions, even on Jews? The goodness of his heart? Not hardly. It's because—I'm as sure of this as I am of anything—he plans on grabbing most of the Ukraine and probably a good chunk of Poland and the Balkans. Maybe even part of Russia, who knows? And the only way he can do that, starting with little Bohemia as his power base, is to make Bohemia the Japan of eastern Europe. And he can't do that without stripping away all the medieval customs and traditions that get in the way."

    Morris barked a laugh. "He spent a lot of time in Edith Wild's house in Grantville himself, you know. I've heard him complain about the lack of toilet paper here in Prague several times."

    "So have I," muttered Len, giving Ellie a glance. "I also heard him pissing and moaning about no electricity, too."

    Ellie's face looked pinched. She'd undoubtedly heard the same thing from him. Morris knew that Wallenstein spent a lot of time with Ellie and Len, watching them as they set up a telephone center in his palace. Not so much because he was trying to oversee the work, about which he knew effectively nothing, but simply because he was interested. Wallenstein was a curious man, interested in many things. Except when his shaky health was acting up, or he was distracted by his obsession with astrology, Wallenstein's mind was always alert and active.

    The pinched look on Ellie's face went away, replaced by... something else. She cocked her head sideways a bit.

    "I'm curious about something. It sounds like—no offense—you're almost planning to set up Bohemia as a counterweight to the CPE. Even a rival. Doesn't that bother you any?"

    Morris shrugged. "Some, sure. But I talked to Mike about it before we left Grantville, and he agrees that it's the only way to do it. That's not just because of the Jewish question, either. Mike's thinking about the whole picture."

    "What Wallenstein wants is one thing," Judith chipped in. "What he winds up with... well, that's something else. He's not the only player in the game."

    Mention of the word game jogged Morris' mind. Like him, Len was a chess enthusiast. "Think of it as a fianchetto, Len. You move up knight's pawn one rank, creating a little pocket for the bishop. Then the bishop sits there, protected, but ready to attack at a diagonal."

    "Yeah, I know. I like the maneuver myself. But what's the—oh."

    "'Oh,' is right. And that's just what Wallenstein might be saying, one of these days. Chess is just a game, so it has firm and hard rules. Real life doesn't. A bishop can take out its own queen, in the real world, if that ever proves necessary. Try to, anyway."

    While Len chewed on the analogy, Morris returned to the table and sat down again. "It's a race, really. That how Mike puts it. A strange kind of race, because we're trying to beat the same man we're allied with—without ever attacking him directly. He'll try for one thing, but the means he has to use for his ends can turn around and bite him on the ass. In our world, the Japanese wound up being saddled by a military dictatorship as they modernized. But who's to say the same thing has to happen here? Maybe it will. Then, again, maybe it won't."

    Honesty forced him to say the next words. "It'll be dangerous, I admit. You'd be a lot safer staying back in Grantville."

    Oddly, that did it. Ellie sat up straight. "You think I'm afraid of these assholes? Bullshit. Len, we're staying."

    "Yes, dear," he murmured.

    "And stop smirking."

    "Hey, look, they got the best beer in the world here, just like they did four hundred years from now. You admitted it yourself, just the other day."

    "I said, stop smirking."



    The last conversation Morris Roth had that day was the one he hadn't foreseen or planned on. After everyone had left and he and Judith were getting ready for bed, his wife said to him:

    "There's one last thing, o great Machiavellian prince of the Jewish persuasion."


    "I want you to stop bullying Jason."

    Morris stared at her. Judith was busy turning down the covers, but she looked up at him squarely.

    "Yes, you are," she said firmly. "He's just a young man who wants to become a rabbi, Morris. That's all. There's at least one of those rabbis in the ghetto whom he likes a lot, and wants to study with. So let him do what he wants, instead of trying to force him to be your Reform champion who'll slay the dragon of Orthodoxy. Let him study and decide for himself what he thinks. And if he winds up becoming an orthodox rabbi, so be it."

    Morris felt his jaws tighten. "You really want to listen to him at prayer, thanking God for not making him a woman?"

    Judith shook her head. "That's neither here nor there, Morris. No, of course I don't. So what? I know how much you miss Rabbi Stern and our old synagogue and Hillel House. So do I. But you can't force Jason to become something he isn't. He's not even twenty-three years old, for Pete's sake. Steve Stern was a middle-aged man with all the confidence of someone who'd studied the Torah and the Talmud for years and was an experienced rabbi. How can you possibly expect Jason to substitute for him? Just because you want to launch a Reform movement two hundred years ahead of schedule? Well, then, why don't you do it yourself, big shot? Instead of trying to jam a kid into it, while you turn yourself into another Rothschild."

    Morris winced. That struck... a little close to home. As much as Morris prized his Reform beliefs, he knew perfectly well that he'd be completely overmatched if he tried to cross theological lances with Orthodox rabbis.

    Judith smiled. "Thought so. You chicken."

    She straightened up from the bed. "Has it ever occurred to you, even once—because I know it has to Jason—that maybe, just maybe, you ought to apply your fancy chess terms to this situation also? Who is to say, Morris Roth, how Judaism will develop in this universe? They don't even use the term 'orthodoxy' in the here and now. Maybe..."

    She waved her hand, half-irritably. "I don't know. Maybe everything will shape up differently. Maybe it won't. What I do know is that you've got one unhappy kid on your hands, and you're driving him away with your pressure and your demands. Leave him alone, Morris. Let Jason Gotkin do whatever Jason Gotkin winds up doing. You never treated our own kids the way you're treating him. So why are you doing it to someone who's become something of an adopted son?"

    Morris thought about it, for a moment. Then, heaved a deep sigh. She was right, and he knew it.

    "Okay. I guess I look a little silly parading around as 'Baron Roth,' huh?"

    His wife looked at him calmly. "No, actually, that's not true. Give it a few more years, and I think you'll have the role down pat. Come as naturally to you as breathing. Surprises the hell out of me, I admit, being married to you for over thirty years. But... there it is. Morris, if we survive, you will—we will, I guess—become the new Rothschilds of this universe. So what do you say we don't screw it up? I'd hate to be remembered as a pack of overbearing bullies. I really would."




    "We cannot postpone a decision on this matter forever, Isaac." Mordechai Spira spoke softly, as was his habit, but firmly nonetheless.

    His friend and fellow rabbi sighed and looked out the window of his domicile. Beyond, the narrow and crooked street was as crowded as it usually was at that time of the morning. Prague's Jewish population was really too big for the Josefov's cramped quarters, and it showed. People were almost living on top of each other.

    "Things are still very tense, Mordechai," Isaac Gans pointed out. "Between the mess with Heller and then—just what was needed—the strains with Auerbach..."

    Mordechai nodded, understanding the point. Prague's last two chief rabbis had been something of a disaster for the Jewish community. Heller had fallen foul of the Habsburgs and had wound up being cast in prison in Vienna. Mordechai thought Heller was personally blameless in the matter, having simply had the misfortune of being politically inept in a tense political situation. The Habsburgs had imposed a harsh tax on Prague's Jewish community in order to help fund their military activities in the savage war which had been rolling across Europe for over a decade. 40,000 thalers! Heller had tried to resist, and then, when resistance proved futile, had done his best to collect the tax fairly.

    But... he had enemies, and they had taken advantage of the situation to lay accusations against him before the Emperor. In the end, his supporters in the Jewish community had been able to get his death sentence commuted, though only because Ferdinand II's greed was such that he had been willing to ransom him for another 12,000 thalers. Still—and probably for the best, all things considered—Heller had not been able to return to Prague. He'd accepted instead a position in the rabbinate of far-off Nemirow.

    Probably for the best, Mordechai reflected. It was hard to say. Alas, he'd been replaced by Simon Auerbach, who, if he had better political skills had been a much harder man for Mordechai and other rabbis to get along with. Auerbach had been a renown Talmudist, true enough. But he was one of those men whose great learning was coupled to a harsh and inflexible temperament. Throughout his career he had clashed with those around him—at Lublin, with Meïr ben Gedaliah, another famous Talmudist; later, at Posen, with the city's rosh yeshivah, Benjamin of Morawczyk; and, soon after his arrival at Prague, he'd had a quarrel with Heller himself.

    Auerbach had died, a year and a half earlier. But he'd done enough damage in the two short years he'd been at Prague that it was still felt, especially coming on top of the continuing strains in the community over the Heller imbroglio.

    The current chief rabbi was a mild-mannered sort of fellow, thankfully. Alas, he was one of those people whose mild manner was principally due to his reluctance to make any decisions. Not a good characteristic for the chief rabbi of the largest Jewish community in Europe—at any time, much less these.

    "Still," Mordechai said abruptly, "a decision must be made. We cannot continue to simply ignore Jason Gotkin."

    "We haven't ignored him, Mordechai," protested Gans.

    Spira waved his hand. "Stop avoiding the issue. First of all, even in social matters we've avoided him. And the Roths, even more so. Yes, we speak to Jason in the street. But have you invited him to your home for Shabbat dinner? No. Neither have I. Neither has anyone. It's grotesque. A schande!"

    He waited a moment; Issac looked away.

    "No," Mordechai repeated. "A complete breach with our customs. And, as I said, neither have I—despite the fact that I like Jason Gotkin. Quite a bit, in fact." He chuckled softly. "And don't forget that I have three unmarried daughters."

    Gans started to grimace; but, then, as his innate fairness and good humor rallied, the grimace shifted into something of a sly smile. "Well, true. And I imagine Sarah in particular would take a fancy to him."

    Mordechai must have looked somewhat alarmed, because Isaac's sly smile started bordering on a grin. "Yes, I know she's your favorite, even if you'll never admit it. But that's because she's sprightly. Just the sort of girl to find an exotic fellow like Gotkin of interest. He's a rather handsome boy, too, you know. To be sure, his Yiddish is somewhat pathetic."

    "His Hebrew isn't," Mordechai pointed out, forcefully. "In fact—spoken, at least—I suspect it's better than yours or mine. Or any other Jew's in the world today."

    Isaac rubbed his forehead. "Do you really believe it, Mordechai?"

    "Say better: is there any way to doubt it, any longer?" Spira's eyes moved to a table in the corner of the room, atop which sat a book whose appearance was unlike that of any other Mordechai had ever seen. He'd lent it to his friend Isaac a week earlier, after Jason Gotkin had lent it to him.

    On one level, the book was simply another edition of the Tanakh—the Jewish version of what Christians called "the Old Testament." Jason had told Mordechai that he'd had it in his possession when the mysterious event had taken place which had brought him and his town into the world from... somewhere else. "In my bags in the trunk of my car," as he'd put it, whatever that meant.

    Mordechai rose and went over to the table. He opened the book and began fingering the pages. He'd leant it to Isaac, in part, because Isaac knew how to read English—a language of which Mordechai himself was completely ignorant.

    "Leave aside the pages and the printing, Isaac—though I know you've never seen anything like it." He swiveled his head around, to regard his friend. "It is the Tanakh, yes?"

    Gans nodded.

    "The Tanakh. In English. At a guess, Isaac, how many copies of an English Tanakh—in any edition, much less one so fine as this—do you think exists in the world?"

    Gans looked away, staring back out the window. "I suspect that is the only Tanakh anywhere in the world, printed in English."

    "The world today, Isaac. Our world. This one. Which means—to me at least—that the boy must be telling the truth. The rest—"

    He waved his hand at the window. "—all of it, this new Confederated Principalities of Europe, Gustavus Adolphus grown so mighty, Wallenstein's disaster at the Alte Veste, the political turmoil. All that I might possibly ascribe to something else. Those are things of the goyishe princes." Then, softly: "But how can I explain such a fine edition of the Tanakh, printed in a language which very few Jews in the world today use? Except some Sephardim, and they would have no more use for an English Tanakh than we do."

    He closed the book and returned to his chair. "We are rabbis, Isaac, not princes. All that faces us, right now, is that a Jewish boy who is—in any manner that you or I can determine—qualified to do so, wishes to join the yeshivah. He does not even ask for financial support, though he is entitled to it. On what grounds can we deny him that wish? For weeks now, I have searched the Talmud and as much of the commentaries as I could, and found nothing."

    "Nothing? He is probably a heretic, Mordechai."

    "Be careful, Isaac," replied Spira softly. "Yes, he comes from what appears to be heresy—to me as well as to you. Appears to be, I remind you. Heresy is not that simple to judge, as you well know. And so what? Has he told us he wishes to advocate heresy? No. He simply wishes to study. On what grounds can we refuse him—without, ourselves, abandoning the traditions we would accuse him of having abandoned?"

    Isaac went back to his window-watching.

    "And what is so fascinating out there?" demanded Mordechai. "Besides too many Jews in too little space, as always. Stop avoiding this, Isaac. In the end, it is our souls which are being tested here, not the soul of Jason Gotkin."

    Gans sighed. "True enough. Very well, Mordechai. I will support you in this. But I warn you, I do not think we will be able to convince the rosh yeshivah."

    Spira shrugged. "No, I don't expect we will. But with your support, no one will oppose me if I begin instructing the boy myself. And I already have a chevrusah for him."

    Gans burst out laughing. "Mordechai, you schemer! I assume you asked young Hoeschel. I think that boy would accept any challenge."

    "Schmuel is a bold one, true enough," allowed Spira, smiling. "But he's met Gotkin, you know, several times. He likes him and tells me he would be quite happy to become Jason's study partner."

    Now that he'd finally made his decision, Gans seemed to relax. That was his usual pattern, Mordechai knew—and the reason he'd begun with him. Issac Gans was perhaps the best scholar among the rabbis in Prague; careful and deliberate in coming to a conclusion, but firm and confident about it thereafter. His support would mean a great deal.

    "And why shouldn't he?" said Isaac. "He is a nice boy, whatever else may be said about him."

    He was smiling slyly again. "You watch. The first time you invite him to Shabbat dinner, Sarah will start pestering you the next day. As sprightly as she is, she'll be hard to resist, too. Especially after she enlists your wife—which she will. You watch."

    Mordechai Spira did his best to look stern and patriarchal. Master of his house. But Isaac's smile just kept widening.




    That same morning, in Vienna, a prince of the goyim came to a decision.

    "Very well. I agree. We have no choice, any longer."

    Emperor Ferdinand II eyed General Piccolomini skeptically. He didn't trust the mercenary, though he understood the man's reasons for refusing to remain in Prague. Piccolomini had once been one of Wallenstein's closest subordinates. But had he remained within Wallenstein's reach, after the Alte Veste, the Bohemian magnate would surely have had him assassinated. By now, the Emperor was sure—so was Piccolomini—Wallenstein had obtained his own copies of books from Grantville. In another universe, Piccolomini had been one of the chief conspirators in the plot which had resulted in Wallenstein's assassination.

    As he still was in this universe, to be sure—but now he proposed to keep his distance.

    "It will work, Your Majesty," Piccolomini assured him. "Wallenstein is on his guard, yes. But he also listens to his astrologers—and two of them are now on the imperial payroll. With their influence, Rossbach has ingratiated himself with Wallenstein. He assures me he can manage it."

    "How much?" the Emperor grunted.

    Piccolomini understood the terse question. "He wants 30,000 thalers—but he will settle for twenty, I think, if your Majesty makes him a Freiherr."

    Ferdinand grunted again. Then, decided he could live with it. If the imperial purse was too straightened, when the time came, he could always simply refuse to pay the full amount. What could Rossbach do, after all?

    "And Pappenheim?"

    "Rossbach says he will do his best, but—" Piccolomini made a face. "Assassinating Pappenheim is a different matter. Risky, much riskier. Unfortunately, Pappenheim doesn't listen to astrologers. And, up close..."

    He shrugged. So did the Emperor—although, in his case, the gesture was one of a man relieving himself of a load. Who was to say? If Rossbach made the attempt on Pappenheim, either he would succeed or he would fail. Mostly likely, he would fail.

    So be it. Wallenstein would still be dead, which was the key thing. And the Emperor would be relieved of the burden of paying 20,000 thalers to his assassin.

    "Let it be done, then," he commanded.



    "He won't listen to me, Edith," complained Isabella Katharina. Wallenstein's wife shook her head. "Those damned astrologers! All he listens to! And they are telling him he has nothing to fear in the year ahead."

    Edith Wild scowled and glanced at the door. Her bedroom directly adjoined the suite which served Wallenstein and his wife as their living quarters in the palace. That was due to Isabella Katharina's insistence that Wallenstein's nurse be readily available in the event his poor health suddenly deteriorated. In the months since she'd arrived in Prague, Isabella had come to trust Edith's advice far more than she did those of her husband's doctors. Much less his astrologers.

    Smart woman, thought Edith. "What does Pappenheim say?"

    "My husband won't listen to him either. I spoke to Gottfried myself, and he says he can do nothing beyond make sure that a guard are always stationed at the entrance."

    "Well, that's true enough. He can't very well force the Duke to accept guards in his own suite."

    Isabella seemed close to tears. Edith patted her on the shoulder. "All right, then, you'll just have to rely on me, if something happens."

    As much as Isabella trusted her, the look she gave Edith now was definitely on the skeptical side.

    Edith sniffed, and marched over to the chest in the corner which held her clothes. After rummaging in the bottom for a moment, she brought out something and showed it to Isabella.

    "This'll do the trick."

    Now more intrigued than anything else, Isabella came over and stared at the thing.

    "Is that one of your American pistols?"

    Edith grunted. "Don't call it a 'pistol.' It's a revolver. Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum Chief Special. Holds five rounds, 125 grain. Kicks like a mule and it'll damn near blow your eardrums, but it'll drop an ox. I wouldn't have bought it myself, it's my son's. But he gave it to me after the first time he fired it on the shooting range." She sniffed again. "I hate to say it, but he's something of a sissy—even if he does like to hang out with those bums at the Club 250, pretending otherwise."

    She was wearing 17th century-style heavy skirts with a separate pocket underneath, attached by a drawstring. Using a slit in the skirts designed for the purpose, she slipped the revolver into the pocket. "Anyway, relax. If anybody gets into the Duke's rooms, I'll see to it they don't leave. Except in a coffin."

    Isabella gazed up admiringly at the large American woman. "What would we do without you?"

    "I don't know," grunted Edith.

    It was the truth, too. There were ways in which taking care of Wallenstein and his wife was like taking care of children. Still, she'd grown very fond of the two of them. The Duke himself was always courteous to her—far more courteous than any "fellow American" had ever been, she thought sarcastically—and Isabella had become a real friend.

    Edith Wild hadn't had many friends in her life. That was her own harsh personality at work, she understood well enough. She'd never really been sure how much she'd like herself, if she had any choice in the matter. So it was nice to have a place again in life, and people who treated her well.

    "Don't worry about it," she gruffed. "I like it here in Prague, and I plan on staying. Anybody tries to fuck with the Duke, they're fucking with me."

    "You shouldn't swear so much," chided Isabella. The reproof was then immediately undermined by a childish giggle. "But I'm so glad you're here."

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