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The Wallenstein Gambit: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Friday, January 2, 2004 18:45 EST



End Game

August, 1633


    "That is a ridiculous price for that horse." Pappenheim was smiling when he said it, though. A rather cold and thin smile, true, but—

    From Pappenheim, that was good enough.

    "All I can afford," Morris insisted. "It's not the horse that's the problem, Gottfried, it's the cost of feeding the great brute."

    "And that statement is even more ridiculous. Not about the horse's appetite—I know what that costs—but the rest of it."

    Pappenheim's eyes ranged up and down Morris' figure, examining his apparel. "What, no pearls? They're quite in fashion, I'm told, in Paris and Vienna—and you needn't worry about the sumptuary laws any longer, because the King of Bohemia has abolished all of them."

    Morris was tempted to state that was because Wallenstein was a clotheshorse himself, but he wisely refrained. It was an autocracy, after all, even if Morris Roth was about as well-respected and well-regarded a courtier—in Bohemia, at least—as any in Europe. And he didn't even have to fawn all over his monarch to maintain the status. Clotheshorse or not, Wallenstein was far more interested in results than flattery.

    Pappenheim rose from his chair. "Oh, let's be done with it. Morris, I give you the horse as a gift. In fact, I'll even include a full set of cuirassier armor to go with it. In recognition of your valor at the Bridge."

    He grinned at Morris' startled expression. "Don't worry. I promise I won't hold it against you if you never wear it. Miserable heavy stuff, I'll be the first to admit."

    "It's not you I'm worried about, Gottfried," Morris replied. "It's my wife. She'll never let me leave it stuffed safely away in a chest. You watch. The first big ceremonial occasion—eek."

    How Pappenheim could manage a grin that wide, and that cold, Morris would never understand.

    "Indeed so," said the Duke of Moravia. "The coronation is less than two weeks from now. Still, that's more than enough time for me to have the armor ready. Do try your best not to trip during the procession, Morris. You'll never get up again, not at your age. Without a winch."


    That night, Jason came back from his first Shabbat dinner at the home of Mordechai Spira.

    He seemed in a peculiar mood, and said very little before he went to bed. Morris didn't notice, but Judith did.

    The next morning, she pressed Jason about it.

    "I don't know. It's hard to explain. A lot of it I liked—a lot. The discussion was almost exhilarating at times. The rabbi was at his best, too. I learned a lot and I laughed a lot at the same time. But..."

    He ran fingers through his hair, which had gotten very long. "I don't know if I'll ever get used to men dancing alone. And it was weird, having the women do all the serving and cooking as if they were menials. Although I was even more surprised—pleased, but surprised—when the women participated in the Talmudic discussion after dinner. I didn't think they would."

    Judith was surprised herself, hearing that. Although...

    She reminded herself not to make the mistake her husband Morris was prone to making. People are not categories, not even categories to which they belong. Unusual rabbis were still rabbis, after all. So why should it really be that surprising—in the same city which had produced a woman like Eva Bacharach—that the wife and daughters of Mordechai Spira would be unusual women?

    "One of the rabbi's daughters even make a joke in the course of it," Jason continued. "Pretty funny one, too."

    His eyes got a little unfocused. Judith had to struggle not to smile.

    "Tell me about her. The daughter, I mean."

    Jason mumbled some vague phrases. The only ones that weren't hopelessly murky had to do with the girl's eyes—very bright, apparently—and the fact that her name was Sarah.

    But Judith let it go. There was no reason to pursue the matter with Jason, at the moment, since it obviously made him uncomfortable. Eva Bacharach would be coming for a visit later that day. Judith could find out everything she needed to know from her.

    "I just don't know what to think," he complained. "Everything seems gray, and complicated. It's confusing."

    "And you think that'll change? It won't. Trust me. But for the moment—"

    She gave the young man a very warm smile. "Welcome to your life, Jason Gotkin."


    In late afternoon, Mordechai Spira visited his friend Isaac Gans.

    After seeing Mordechai to a chair, Gans sat in his own.


    "You were quite wrong, Isaac. Sarah didn't start pestering me until after lunch."

    "Ha!" Issac chuckled. "That's because she spent the whole morning conspiring with your wife."

    "I know," said Mordechai gloomily. His eyes moved to the books on Isaac's study table. "It's a puzzling and tangled problem, given who the fellow is. But I'm sure I can find something in the Talmud—perhaps the responsa—to guide me properly."

    "Of course you can. Everything pertaining to proper conduct is contained somewhere in the Talmud or the midrash or the responsa. I'm more the scholar than you are, though I don't have your stature as a judge." Stoutly: "So I will be glad to help!"

    Gans leaned forward, spreading his hands wide. "But we must begin by facing the truth, Mordechai my old friend. We're rabbis. Studying the sacred texts takes time—hours and hours, days and weeks, poring over the words—and we are dealing with women."

    Spira grimaced ruefully. "They're quick."

    "Indeed. And so, I think, are these new times. We will just have to do our best."


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