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The Wallenstein Gambit: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Saturday, December 6, 2003 00:00 EST



En passant

July, 1633


    "I feel silly in this get-up," Morris grumbled, as Judith helped him with the skirted doublet. "Are you sure? I mean, I've gotten used to wearing it—sort of—when I go visit Wallenstein in his palace. He dresses like a peacock himself and insists everyone does at his little courts. But I'm just going next door!"

    "Stop whining, Morris," his wife commanded. She stepped back and gave him an admiring look. "I think you look terrific, myself. This outfit looks a lot better on you than a modern business suit ever did."

    She was telling him nothing more than the truth, actually. Judith thought he did look terrific. Her husband had the kind of sturdy but unprepossessing face and figure which a drab uptime business suit simply emphasized. Whereas that same figure, encased in the clothing worn by 17th century courtiers, looked stately rather than somewhat plump—and it was the shrewdness and intelligence in his face which was brought forward, rather than the plain features, when framed by a lace-fringed falling collar spilling across his shoulders and capped by a broad-brimmed hat.

    "The plume, too?" he whined.

    "I said, 'stop whining.' Yes, the plume too." She took him by the shoulders, turned him around, and began gently pushing him toward the door of their suite. "Look at it this way, Morris. For years I had to listen to you crab and complain about how much you hated wearing a tie. Now—no ties."

    He hadn't quite given up. "Damnation, I'm just going across the street—barely inside the ghetto—to visit Jason in the new community center."

    They were outside the suite which served them as their private quarters, and moving down the hallway toward the great staircase. Judith was no longer actually pushing him ahead of her, but she was crowding him closely enough to force him forward.

    "Which you have never yet visited," she pointed out. "Not once in the two weeks since it was finished and Jason started working out of it. Even though you paid for the whole thing—buying the building, refurbishing it, and stocking it with what's becoming a very fine library as well as a kitchen for the poor."

    Now, they were starting down the stairs. Judith wasn't crowding him quite as closely any longer. Not quite.

    "I won't feel comfortable there," he predicted. "Especially not wearing this damn getup. When I went to Hillel House—"

    "This is not Hillel House in Morgantown, Morris," Judith pointed out firmly. "And this is not the 21st century. Everybody in the ghetto knows you're the benefactor who financed the new community center—just like they know you're the source of the not-so-anonymous funds which went to help refurbish the Rathhaus and improve the Old-New Synagogue."

    They'd reached the bottom of the stairs. Morris turned around and planted his hands on hips, almost glaring at his wife.

    "Yes? And did they use the money the way I wanted?"

    Judith gave him a level look, for a moment, before responding. "Yes, as a matter of fact, they did. Avigail and Hirshele thanked me for it just yesterday. They say the seats in the womens' section of the synagogue are much improved—and the air circulation even more so."

    That only made Morris look more sour yet. "Swell. So I'm aiding and abetting 'separate but equal'—which it never is."

    It was Judith's turn to plant her hands on her hips. It was a gesture she did a lot more authoritatively than he did.

    "Morris, cut it out. You're fifty-three years old and I'm only a year younger than you are. Neither one of us is going to live long enough to see a tenth of the changes you'd like to see—and you know it as well as I do. So what do you say we keep our eyes focused on what's really critical?"

    She was actually a little angry, she realized, not just putting on an act. "What do you think those Jews are, over there in the Ukraine, whose lives you want to save? A bunch of Mendelssohns and Einsteins and Oppenheimers? Hundreds of thousands of budding Stephen Jay Goulds, champing at the bit to study evolution and biology? They're every bit as set in their ways and customs as the crankiest rabbi here in Prague—a lot more so, in fact. So?"

    He looked away. "I just don't like it," he murmured.

    Judith shook her head. "Husband, I love you dearly but sometimes you are purely maddening. What's really going on here is that you just have a bad conscience because you know you've hurt Jason's feelings by not showing up sooner at the community center. And now—men!—you're taking it out on everybody else. Starting with me. So cut it out. Just do your duty and march over there. Wearing your Jewish prince outfit."

    She took him by the shoulders and spun him around, facing the door to the street. A servant was standing by, ready to open it. Judith was a bit startled to see him, only realizing now that he would have heard the whole conversation.

    How much of it he would have understood, of course, was another question. So far as she knew, Fischel spoke no English at all.

    So far as she knew—but she'd never asked. Mentally, she shrugged her shoulders. Nothing had been said which would come as any surprise to anyone, after all. Unlike Morris, Judith never let her own attitudes blind her to the fact that 17th century traditional Jews—and certainly their rabbis—were no dummies. By now, months after the Roths had arrived in Prague with a big splash, the people of the ghetto would have made their own assessment of these exotic foreign Jews.

    Well, perhaps not "assessment." Not yet, anyway. But Judith was quite sure that she and Morris had been studied very carefully by their servants—and their observations faithfully reported to their rabbis.

    "Go," she commanded.



    After Morris left, Judith went to the kitchen—insofar as the term "kitchen" could be used to describe a huge suite of interconnected rooms on the lowest floor devoted to the storing, preparation and serving of food for the inhabitants of a small palace. And not just food for the lord and lady of the mansion, either, and the guests who came to their now-frequent dinners and soirees. Judith was well aware that the midday meal which the cooks and servants made for themselves was their biggest meal of the day—and that they quietly smuggled food out every night, for their families back in the ghetto. Quietly, but not particularly surreptitiously. Judith had made clear to them, long since, that whatever disputes she might have with aspects of their beliefs and customs, she was a firm believer in the Biblical precept about not muzzling the kine that tread the grain.

    Avigail, as usual, was tending the big hearth in which the actual cooking was done. Even after the months she'd been in Prague, Judith was still always a little startled to see that hearth, and the profusion of kettles hanging over it and smaller skillets nestled directly in the coals. It was such homely things as the absence of stoves which really drove home to her, more than anything else, that she was now living in a different universe.

    Avigail straightened up and smiled at her. "Good morning, Gracious Lady."

    Avigail spoke Yiddish, not German, but Judith had no trouble understanding her. Except for some loan words, the languages were almost identical. The spoken languages, that is. Yiddish was written in Hebrew characters, which Judith couldn't read at all. One of the reasons Judith had hired Avigail was because the woman could read German also, which allowed Judith to leave notes for her when need be.

    Now, she wondered what other languages Avigail might speak. Judith knew the woman was fluent in Czech also. But—

    She blurted it out. In English. A language she had just assumed—without ever asking—would be completely foreign to the cook.

    "Avigail, do you speak English?"

    The cook hesitated for a moment. Then, her face a bit stiff, replied in heavily-accented but quite understandable English: "Yes, Gracious Lady. I do."

    Judith suddenly realized that the normally-bustling and busy kitchen had fallen very quiet. She scanned the room and saw that all five of the cooks and helpers present were staring at her. All of them with that same, slightly-stiff expression.

    "Do all of you speak English?"

    Again, that hesitation. Then, again, nodding heads.

    For a moment, Judith wavered between anger and...


    She burst out laughing. "Does every servant in this house speak English?"

    Nods. A bit hastily, Avigail said: "Young Samuel upstairs, not so well." She pointed with a ladle at a teenage girl standing in a corner near the pantry. "And little Rifka over there, even worse. Lazy youngsters, they don't do their studies like they should."

    Judith had to fight to bring her laughter under control. "Their 'studies,' no less!"

    She shook her head, grinning. "They must have scoured the ghetto to find that many English-speakers. Avigail, if you have any questions—or if the rabbis do—you need only ask. I really have no secrets. Neither does my husband."

    There didn't seem anything else to say. Still grinning, she left the room.



    After she was gone, Avigail and the three women who'd been employed since the first days after the Roths arrived, turned their heads to regard Rifka. The young woman was new to the household, having only started working there the week before. Their expressions were identical: that of older women finally and fully vindicated in front of skeptical and callow striplings.

    "You see?" demanded Avigail. "Did we not tell you?"

    "I will study harder," Rifka said meekly.

    "That's not what I meant!" snapped Avigail. "And you know it perfectly well."

    She sniffed, turned away, and went back to work with her ladle. It had a very long handle, because the hearth was large and the fire was hot. But the ladle in Avigail's mind had just grown shorter still. By now, it was not much longer than a spoon.





    The first thing Morris saw when he entered the community center—the first thing he really noticed, at least, due to his nervousness—was the rabbi standing next to Jason and another young man.

    He assumed he was a rabbi, at least. Partly from the clothing the man was wearing, but mostly from certain indefinable things about the way he carried himself—and the very evident respect with which Jason and the other youngster were listening to what he had to say.

    Morris found himself almost gritting his teeth. He had a better knowledge of history, in general, than most residents of Grantville. And because he'd always been especially interested in Jewish history, he had a particularly good knowledge of that subject. He felt like shouting at the three of them: Your damn rabbinate didn't start running the show until not much more than a thousand years ago! Those old men in Babylon who started throwing their weight around after the destruction of the Second Temple. Our history goes back at least two thousand years earlier than that. Ask David and Solomon—or Abraham and Moses—if they kowtowed to a bunch of old men with long beards and stupid hats!

    But, he didn't. It would have been unfairly one-sided, as well as rude and pointless. And, besides...

    Well, the fact was that the rabbi in question was not particularly old. In fact, he looked to be younger than Morris himself.

    Nothing for it, then. Morris took a deep breath and marched over.

    Seeing him come, Jason smiled widely. It was the biggest smile Jason had given Morris in at least two months, and Morris felt himself warming. As Judith had said, since the Ring of Fire Morris had come to look upon young Gotkin as something of an adopted son. The estrangement which had grown between them since their arrival in Prague had been painful.

    The rabbi turned his head and regarded Morris. He obviously knew who he was, even though they'd never met. Morris was not surprised. This was not the first time, by any means, that Morris had entered the ghetto. He'd made a number of trips—right into the center of the Josefov—to meet with Dunash and his people. And, every time, although people had not been rude about it, Morris had been quite aware that he'd been carefully and closely observed everywhere he went. And was just as sure that the people who watched him passed on their observations to their rabbis.

    As he neared, the rabbi smiled politely and addressed him. "Good morning, Don Morris. Since I have never had the opportunity, let me take it now to thank you for your generosity in providing for this center. And your many other generosities."

    The rabbi's German was excellent, if oddly accented to Morris' ear. By now, Morris' own German was almost fluent. What he found more interesting, though, was the way the rabbi had addressed him. Don Morris—as if Morris were a Sephardic hidalgo. True, it made a certain sense, because most court Jews in the first half of the 17th century were still Sephardic rather than Ashkenazi. Still...

    Morris decided it was a workable compromise, for him as much as the rabbi. Although there were some differences in the way Sephardim and Ashkenazim observed their faith, which resulted in friction and even occasional clashes, neither one of the branches of Judaism considered the other to be heretics. Not to mention that Italian Jews, in this day and age, constituted something of a third tradition of their own.

    Truth be told, the friction between Ashkenazim and Sephardim was due more to social factors than religious ones. Sephardim, as a rule, were more comfortable with cultural accommodation to gentile society—and, as a rule, considerably wealthier than most Ashkenazim. So, they tended to look down on Ashkenazim as the equivalent of "country rubes"—a disdain which the Ashkenazim returned in kind, much as Morris' hillbilly neighbors made wisecracks about city slickers. But, since he'd arrived in his new universe, Morris had discovered that the interaction between the two—and with the Judaeo-Italians—was quite a bit more extensive than his study of history had led him to suspect.

    Besides, the man was being courteous. Whatever his underlying attitudes, Morris had never found it possible to be rude to someone who was not being rude to him.

    He nodded. Graciously, he hoped. "My pleasure, rabbi. Ah—"

    "This is Rabbi Spira," Jason said promptly, almost eagerly.

    So. This is the one.

    Morris had to fight down a momentary surge of jealousy. Although Jason had been veiled about it, Morris was well aware that the young man had come to develop a deep admiration for Mordechai Spira—and something which bordered on filial respect.

    Now that Morris had finally met the man, he could understand that better. As much as Morris was inclined to dislike orthodox zealots—and he considered all orthodox rabbis to be zealots, by their nature—he couldn't miss the intelligence in Spira's eyes. Nor the quite evident warmth and kindliness in them, either. Jason had told him, more than once, that even when Rabbi Spira corrected him for his errors, he invariably did so with good humor. Even wit.

    For Morris Roth, "witty orthodox rabbi" had always been something of an oxymoron. Unlike Jason, who'd lived in Israel for a year as a student, Morris and Judith had never done more than visit the country for a couple of weeks at a time. Morris had not had much contact with Orthodox Judaism in the United States he'd come from, since his area of the country was dominated by Reform Judaism. So his main personal impression of orthodox rabbis came from what he'd seen in Israel—which, to him, had been their constant interference in Israel's politics, their narrow-minded obsessions, the readiness with which they threw their political weight around. He'd been particularly angry at their refusal—well, some of them—to allow their followers to serve in Israel's armed forces, at the same time that they demanded those armed forces be used to carry out policies they wanted.

    He had to remind himself—as Judith reminded him constantly—that they'd left that world behind. There was no Israel in this universe. Not yet, at least; and not for some time to come, if ever. The orthodox rabbinate which existed here was one which had been shaped by the life of Jews in central and eastern Europe's ghettos and shtetls. It simply wasn't fair for Morris Roth to pile atop Mordechai Spira's head all the sins of a rabbinate in a different time, in a different universe.

    He began to say some words which would have been simply friendly. But he'd barely begun before he heard sharp and loud noises coming from the entrance. The sounds were very faint, seeming to come from a great distance, but Morris thought he recognized them.

    Gunshots. Then, a moment later—

    Lots of gunshots.

    "It's starting," he said. "Finally."





    Ellie leaned back in the chair before the console, and took a deep breath.

    "Well, Duke, there it is. Finished. Finally."

    Wallenstein examined the telephone center, his eyes bright with interest. "And you have the people trained to operate it, yes?"

    Ellie nodded. "Three, so far. Enough to keep shifts going round the clock—for a while, anyway. You'll need to give them some time off, though, now and then."

    Wallenstein was frowning a little, as he often did listening to Ellie's idiosyncratic blend of German and English. Belatedly, she realized that the expression "round the clock" wouldn't have meant much to him. True, they had clocks in the 17th century. But the devices were rare and expensive, too much so for their habits to have entered popular idiom yet.

    Wallenstein shrugged irritably. "I see no problem." He jerked his head toward a door. "They will sleep here, anyway."

    The new telephone center, at Wallenstein's insistence, had been built directly adjoining his personal suite in the palace. He'd even had living quarters connected to it prepared for the eventual telephone operators. Ellie thought that was an odd arrangement. But, given Wallenstein's shaky health—not to mention the terrible wounds which Julie Mackay had inflicted upon him at the Alte Veste, which he would never fully recover from even with the help of American medical care—she could understand it. Wallenstein had to spend a lot of his time, now, resting in his bed. But with a telephone literally at his fingertips, he would have the wherewithal to continue managing the empire he intended to build for himself. Ellie and Len had already built and put in place a direct phone connection between Wallenstein's bed in his private room and the telephone center itself.

    By now, Ellie had gotten to know Wallenstein well enough not to be afraid to contradict him. The Duke of Friedland was insistent upon his privileges, and had a very harsh way with anyone who was impolite to him. But he did not bridle at being opposed over a matter of substance, as long as it was done respectfully and not too insistently. And, fortunately, he cut more slack for Ellie than he did for just about anyone else except his wife Isabella and his nurse, Edith Wild. And Pappenheim, of course.

    Ellie shook her head. "Duke, this is not that simple a system to operate. It takes a lot of mental alertness—at least, assuming you wind up using it as often as you think you will. What I mean is—"

    There was an interruption at the door. More precisely, in the large room beyond which served Wallenstein's private suite as an entry salon. A man was pushing his way in, over-riding the protests of the guard stationed at the entrance to the suite. There seemed to be several men standing in the corridor beyond, as well.

    Ellie recognized him. It was Eugen Rossbach—Ritter Rossbach, as he insisted on being called—one of the mercenary captains who had attached himself to Wallenstein's service. Wallenstein was rather partial to the man. Ellie despised him, herself—but then, admittedly, Ellie despised most of the mercenaries who surrounded the Duke of Friedland. Perhaps oddly, Pappenheim—in some ways the most frightening of them all—was the one she disliked the least.

    Wallenstein, now frowning fiercely, stepped out of the small telephone center into the main salon." What is it, Rossbach? I am occupied at the moment."

    Rossbach, still fending off the protesting guard with one hand, waved a document with the other. "Yes, my apologies—but you must see this immediately! It's from the Emperor!"

    Ellie rose and came to the doorway. Wallenstein took a step forward to take the message, which Rossbach extended toward him.

    It suddenly dawned on Ellie that the three men with Rossbach were coming into the main salon, now that the guard was distracted. Why?

    One of them—then the other two—reached for their swords. Without thinking, Ellie grabbed Wallenstein by his collar and yanked him backward.

    The Duke cried out in protest. Rossbach snarled. Then—Ellie never saw the stabbing itself—the guard suddenly screamed and staggered forward. Behind him, as he fell to his knees, she could see one of Rossbach's companions with his sword now in his hand. The tip of it was covered in blood.

    Wallenstein cried out again. A curse of some sort, Ellie thought. Rossbach shouted something, dropped the document and drew his own sword.

    Ellie hauled Wallenstein back into the telephone room. He stumbled on the way and fell backward, landing on his rump. She just had time to slam the door shut in Rossbach's face.

    Then, fumbled to find the lock which—

    Didn't exist.

    Goddamit! There'd been no reason, after all, to put a lock on that door. In fact, Wallenstein would have been furious if they'd done so. It was his telephone center, not that of the men who would be operating it for him.

    She heard Rossbach's fist slamming the door. Then, a moment later, a much heavier wham as his boot slammed into it.

    Ellie's fear and fury were, for a moment, penetrated by an absurd impulse to cackle with laughter. That idiot Rossbach thinks the door IS locked.

    But it probably wouldn't take him long to figure it out. And besides—another wham—even if he didn't, that door wasn't really that solid. He'd be able to kick it in easily enough.

    Wallenstein was now rising to his feet. Unfortunately, in his own personal suite, the Duke wasn't carrying his sword. They were both unarmed.

    "Bullshit!" Ellie snarled. She stooped over and rummaged through the big tool chest which had been in the room for weeks now. An instant later, coming up with a modern Crescent wrench—Len's 12-incher—as well as the two-foot cheater pipe he used for extra leverage when he needed it.

    She tossed the pipe to Wallenstein and hefted the wrench. It wasn't much, but it would have to do.


    Wham!—and the door came off the hinges. Rossbach and another man started pushing through the doorway, their swords level.


    Both of them sailed through the opening, as if shot from a cannon, their swords flying out of their hands. Wallenstein clubbed Rossbach down, but Ellie missed the other man. Her swing had been wild, accompanied by a shriek of fear as she dodged the sword sailing ahead of him. Now it was her turn to fall on her ass.

    It didn't matter, though. The swing had been more of a reflex than anything else. She'd seen the erupting exit wound on the man's belly. That WHAM had been a gunshot.

    She stared through the open, shattered doorway. She could see Edith Wild standing in the salon, now. The big woman's face was contorted with anger and she was holding a modern-style revolver in both hands. The two remaining assassins were out of Ellie's range of view. But she could just imagine how astonished they were. Ellie was astonished herself.


    Now that Ellie wasn't completely overwhelmed by adrenalin, the sound of the gunshots seemed ten times louder. Edith must have been nearly deafened. Each shot from the short-barreled revolver was accompanied by a bright yellow muzzle flash. The gun bucked in Edith's big hands—so badly that Ellie was pretty sure the second shot had gone wild.

    But Edith didn't seemed fazed at all. The snarl stayed on her face and she brought the gun back into line.

    "The Tatar," indeed. Don't fuck with Nurse Ratchett.

    Ellie heard a man shout something. A protest of some kind, perhaps, or a plea for mercy.

    Fat lot of good it did him. WHAM!



    Ellie shook her head to clear it. When she looked up again, Edith was no longer in sight. Hearing some sort of noise—she couldn't really tell what it was, her ears were ringing so badly—Ellie scrambled over on her hands and knees and stuck her head out the door.

    Edith's last shot had gone a little wild too, it seemed. The man had only been wounded in the shoulder—from what Ellie could tell, nothing more than a flesh wound—and Edith's gun was out of ammunition.

    Fat lot of good it did him. Don't fuck with Nurse Ratchett. Edith had wrestled him to the floor and was now clubbing his head with her revolver.

    Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

    Wallenstein stuck his own head out the door, crouched a little higher than Ellie. "Rossbach is dead," he announced.

    He studied Edith at her work for a moment, then straightened and helped Ellie to her feet. When she looked at him again, to her surprise, Wallenstein was smiling thinly and stroking his badly-scarred jaw.

    "A pity there are so few American women," he announced. "If I had an army of you mad creatures, I could conquer the world."

    Pappenheim charged into the salon, his sword in his hand. Behind him came at least half a dozen soldiers. When he saw Wallenstein, obviously unhurt, the relief on his face was almost comic. It was odd, really—not for the first time, the thought came to Ellie—how much devotion a man like Wallenstein could get from a man like Pappenheim. She didn't think she'd ever really understand it.

    But, she didn't need to. The fact itself was enough. Wallenstein was still alive and kicking and now Pappenheim was on the scene. Which meant that—finally—all hell was about to break loose.

    "Best stop her, Gottfried," said Wallenstein, pointing to Edith. The nurse was still clubbing the would-be assassin, though he was now completely limp and lying on the floor. "It would help if we could get him to talk."

    Even ferocious Pappenheim seemed a little daunted by the project. After a moment's hesitation, he sheathed his word and walked over, taking care to remain outside of Edith's reach.

    He knelt to bring himself into her field of view and gave Edith his most winning smile. Which, on Pappenheim's face, looked about as out of place as anything Ellie could imagine.

    He extended his hand in a carefully non-threatening plea for restraint. "Bitte, Frau. We need the man to talk."

    Edith let up on her thumping and glared at Pappenheim. Then, gave the assassin one final thump and rose heavily to her feet. "All right. But he better never try it again."

    Pappenheim studied the man's bloody head. "No fear of that, I think."

    Now Isabella came piling into the room, shrieking with fear, and practically leaped into her husband's arms. As he comforted her, Wallenstein gave Ellie a meaningful glance.

    "Yes, boss," she muttered. She went back into the telephone center and started making the connections.

    As Ellie expected, it wasn't long before Wallenstein came in. He was a considerate husband, but some things that man would always insist on doing himself.

    "The first time it is used," he confirmed. "I will do so, and no other."

    Ellie had already made the connection to the barracks adjoining Wallenstein's palace where he kept his trusted officers and troops. (Except Pappenheim and the most trusted ones—they lived in the palace.) Len was handling the phone center in the barracks itself, and they'd had time to exchange a few words.

    Wallenstein leaned over and spoke into the tube. "Do it," was all he commanded.

    Pappenheim crowded in, giving the telephone equipment no more than an interested glance. "I will see to Marradas myself."

    "Make sure there's not another miracle, Gottfried."

    The smile that now came to Pappenheim's face didn't look out of place at all.



    Ellie never saw it herself, since she spent the next many hours closeted in the telephone center. But she heard about it. In the famous "defenestration of Prague" which had been the incident usually cited as the trigger for the Thirty Years War, the Catholic Habsburg envoys thrown out of a high window in Prague Castle by rebellious Protestant noblemen had landed in a pile of manure. Their survival had been acclaimed as a miracle by the Catholic forces and had been disheartening to the Protestant rebels.

    Marradas fell about the same distance—seventy feet—after Pappenheim threw him out of a window in the castle. But, as commanded, there was no second miracle. Marradas landed on a pile of stones on the street below—placed there by Pappenheim's soldiers at his command, while Pappenheim kept the screaming and struggling Spanish don pinned in his grip for ten minutes until the work was finished.





    Ellie heard about it from Morris Roth, who had watched it happen—at a distance, through binoculars, from the room in the uppermost floor of his mansion which gave him the best vantage point.

    Morris had gone back to his mansion as soon as he realized the coup was underway. Jason had followed him along with, somewhat to Morris' surprise, Mordechai Spira. The rabbi had not even taken the precaution of wearing the special badge which Jews were required to wear under Habsburg law whenever they left the ghetto.

    For the first few hours, it was hard to tell exactly what was happening. Morris had tried to reach Len and Ellie with the CB radios they'd brought with them to Prague, but there was no answer. That meant neither of them were in their private rooms in Wallenstein's palace. They always left their CB there, hidden in one of their chests, since the existence of the radios was supposed to be a secret from their new allies. None of them really thought that Wallenstein was fooled any, but since he also never raised the issue, they'd decided that maintaining discretion was the best policy. Soon enough, no doubt, now that the conflict was out in the open, Wallenstein would start pressuring his American allies to provide him with more in the way of technological advancement. Sufficient is the evil unto the day thereof, and all that.

    But their protracted failure to answer was enough by itself to confirm Morris' guess. That had to mean that both of them were busy in the new phone centers, which Wallenstein would be using to co-ordinate the first stages of his coup d'etat.

    The defenestration of Marradas took place early in the afternoon. A few short minutes later, a new standard began appearing, draped over the walls of every prominent building on the Hradèany—even the cathedral. Morris didn't recognize it, but he was sure it was the new coat of arms which Wallenstein had designed for himself.

    Duke of Friedland, Prince of Sagan—and now, King of Bohemia and Moravia.

    Morris lowered the binoculars. "Well, that's it. For the moment, anyway."

    He heard Mordechai Spira clear his throat. "We will not take sides in this, Don Morris. None of us have any love for the Habsburgs, but... Wallenstein... It was he, you know, who had poor Jacob Stein guarded by dogs under the gallows while he extorted eleven thousand florins from us."

    "Yes, I know. But the fact was that Stein had broken the law—even if unwittingly—and there are plenty of goyishe princes who would have executed him after squeezing the silver from us. And it is also a fact that Wallenstein eventually exonerated Hanok ben Mordechai Altschul, who had also been accused, when many a goyishe prince—most of them—would never have bothered distinguishing a guilty Jew from an innocent."

    He turned his head and looked at Spira. The rabbi's eyes were a little wide. "You know the history of it?" he asked, obviously surprised.

    "I know a great deal of history," Morris said harshly. He was on the verge of uttering some bitter phrases—more than phrases, entire paragraphs—on the ineffectual role generally played by orthodox rabbis when the Nazi Holocaust swept over eastern Europe's Jewry.

    But, thankfully, he managed to swallow them. Mordechai Spira seemed a well-meaning man, and young Jason liked and admired him—and, most of all, it was simply unfair to blame a man or even a group of men for the faults and failures of other men in a completely different time and place.

    "I know a great deal of history," Morris repeated, but this time softly, almost sighing the words. "I only wish I knew what to do with that knowledge."

    Inadvertently, his eyes drifted eastward. Spira's eyes followed his gaze.

    "You are worried about the Ukraine, I know. Jason has told me."

    "Will you help me, then?"

    The rabbi hesitated, but not for more than a second or two. "I will do everything I can, Don Morris, which I feel I can do in good conscience."

    Morris thought about it. "I guess I can live with that."

    He went back to studying the city with his binoculars. "I do not know what is going to happen now, rabbi. But you are not pacifists."

    "No, we are not."

    "You will defend the ghetto, whether or not you take sides in this business." It was a command, not a question. "I do not know if there will be trouble, but there may be. Not from Wallenstein or Pappenheim, but the Habsburgs. Or, for that matter, who knows what Holk and his butchers will do, when they get the news."

    "Yes," replied Spira. "We will do our best, at least. Though we have no weapons beyond tools and kitchen knives."

    Morris chuckled, and lowered the binoculars. "That's what you think. Show him, Jason."



    Ten minutes later, Mordechai Spira's eyes were wider yet. Jason and Dunash's people—who'd arrived at the Morris mansion just moments earlier—were hauling the muskets out of the crates in the basement and stacking them against the walls.

    "I was able to bring two hundred, which was all Mike Stearns told me he could spare," Morris explained. "These are the new flintlocks. You'll need to have Jason explain how they work. They're not really much different from matchlocks, just better. I assume that in a ghetto of some fifteen thousand people, there have to be at least a few hundred who've handled firearms before."

    Spira nodded. "Oh, yes. Many are here from the small villages, where things are less regulated. And there are at least a few dozen seamen."

    "We can help too!" Dunash said eagerly.

    Morris glared at him. "You are taking sides in this business, young man—and you have commitments already. Red and Billek are counting on you to man the katyusha. So get your ass out of here."

    Dunash hesitated. But Jason spoke up, very firmly. "Do as he says, Dunash. All of you."

    The young Abrabanel firebrands and their new recruits—there were almost twenty of them, now—immediately left. The rabbi turned his head to watch them go, before bringing his gaze to Jason. It was almost as he were examining him.

    Then, he smiled. "I have great hopes for you, young man. I think you will make a splendid rabbi."

    Now he looked at Jason's chevrusah. "Spread the word, Schmuel. We want only men who know how to use guns. No point in trying to teach complete novices."

    After Schmuel raced out, Spira chuckled. "Such as myself. Tell me, Don Morris, are you familiar with guns?"

    Before answering him—by way of answer, rather—Morris went to another crate and drew out a different weapon. This one, unlike the others, was encased in a fancy covering rather than simple cloth.

    He unzipped the guncase and drew out the rifle. "This is a much better gun than those flintlocks, rabbi. I've owned it for many years. It is called—well, never mind. Yes, I know how to use it. I was a soldier in the American army, some years ago. In fact, I'm quite a good shot."

    Spira seemed to be examining him, now. Morris shifted his shoulders uncomfortably. "Look, rabbi, it's not just my military training. In the world I came from my wife and children and I were the only Jews in our town. And it's a mountain country town, where everybody hunts."

    He looked down at the rifle, caressing the sleek stock. "The strange thing about it—perhaps—is that I never actually hunted myself. Hunting is not part of our traditions and customs."

    Spira nodded. "No, it is not. We may only eat meat which has been properly slaughtered by a schohet."

    Morris smiled wryly; almost bitterly. "Ah, yes, all those rules. Most of which I do not agree with but still often find it hard to ignore completely. Like hunting." He raised the rifle a bit, as if starting to bring it to his shoulder, and then lowered it again.

    "But, you see, rabbi... it would have been standoffish for me not to join my friends in their favorite sport. So, I did, even though I never shot any deer. I just went along. I always enjoyed the outdoors anyway. And—I don't know—I suppose just in order to prove that the reason I didn't wasn't because—well—"

    He shifted his shoulders again. "I was one of the best shots on the rifle range and everybody knew it. So my friends—yes, gentile friends, I had lots of them—still do—would tease me about it. But not much, and not hard, and only in fun."

    He gave Spira something of a challenging stare. Spira looked away, but Morris didn't think it was because the rabbi was afraid of the challenge, or trying to avoid it.

    "There are many wise and wonderful sayings in the midrash, Don Morris. 'When in a city, follow its customs' is one of them."

    Morris swallowed. He'd heard that one before, from his rabbi Steve Stein, in a universe now impossible to reach.

    Spira brought his gaze back. "But I think there is perhaps an even more apt saying—though not from the midrash. It is one of your American folk sayings, Jason tells me."

    The rabbi gestured toward the west, where, faintly, the sounds of fighting could still be heard across the river. "We will not takes sides in this affair. But, however it is settled, we will be guided by the wisdom of the ancient Babylonian sage Schmuel. 'The law of the kingdom is the law.' That will suffice for you, I think, in the immediate period."

    "Yeah," Morris gruffed. "I can live with that. For a while, at least. So can Wallenstein."

    Spira nodded. "And, in the meantime, Don Morris—"

    "I prefer to be called just 'Morris,'" he stated abruptly.

    Spira nodded again. "As you wish. And, in the meantime, Morris... don't be a stranger."

    With that, smiling, the rabbi turned away and headed for the stairs. "Now," he said over his shoulder, "I'd best see after young Schmuel—who is no sage. Indeed, he can be excessively enthusiastic. Please come with me, Jason, I could use your help."



    Morris stayed alone in the basement after they left, silent, for perhaps five minutes. Then he began loading the rifle.

    "Did you think it was going to be simple?" he muttered to himself. "You dummy."

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