Saturday Story: Fountains of Mercy: Part Fifteen

Alliances, trade, and life in a new world . . .

Kos Peilov decided to visit the city in late winter. Karina announced that she intended to stay “in the warm” with the youngest children, and Carl had just married Vanessa Kuyper, so he agreed to remain on the farm and watch the animals. Tildie and Basil packed their warmest things and went east with Kos, riding in a ski-equipped wagon. They’d decided to bring along several bales of fleece and sacks of nuts to use as trade goods. Kos also had copies of a few books they’d printed out and made duplicates of. “The city government’s paying well for books, especially practical or religious ones, or so the rumor tree has it,” Kos had informed them.

The trip passed quickly. Basil had not gotten to see much of the world between Kos Peilov’s lands and ColLandPlat, and she stared around at the hills and the grey, ice-edged river. Snow covered much of the ground. Despite the excitement the past spring, the weather had stayed mild until a month after the winter solstice, when winter arrived with harsh ferocity, as if to make up for being late. “Good season in the ground,” Kos observed. “Not too many bugs can winter over, either.”

Basil just rested and enjoyed the four day trip. Sleep while you can. We’ll be lambing before much longer, and then no sleep for me, Carl, or the shepherds. The horses clopped along, pulling the wagon-sleigh up one final hill. Kos stopped the horses and pointed with his stock whip. Basil exclaimed, “That’s Vindobona?”

Beside her, Tildie laughed. “Goodness, it looks like something from one of the children’s story holos!” And it did, with walls and watch towers, and snow all around. Basil saw smoke rising into the afternoon air from a cluster of buildings, perhaps a small village, between them and the city. Feathers of cloud draped the pale blue sky, and a faint shadow extended ahead of them. “An hour at best and we’ll be there,” Tildie said, sounding happy.

Kos took the hint and clucked the big horses back into motion. Paul Krehbiel’s mare and gelding snorted and plodded on. Kos had borrowed them to show in the city. They needed to start looking for other bloodlines to breed into the Peilov-Donatello Bend horses, which was another reason Kos had brought Basil, so she could look at all sorts of animals for later spring purchase or stud rental. She burrowed back under her blanket and watched the new-to-her world go by.

They entered the city just before the sun touched the top of the hills to the west. The walls cut the wind, and the bustle and sound of voices and hooves filled Basil’s ears. I had no idea . . . I though it was a little bigger than the main village at Donatello Bend, or Crownpoint. This is a real city! There were shops with glass windows, and lots of people, and even what looked like fountains, now turned off and drained for the winter. Basil caught herself staring and shook a little, then had to laugh.

Tildie gave her a funny look, and Basil told the older wife, “I was thinking that this is a big city.”

The other woman smiled a little sadly. “Well, it is, now. If the stories about ColLandPlat, New Benin, Delhi II, and the others are true.”

The sledge creaked to a halt as the road opened into a market square. That is, Basil assumed it was a market, since people had tables set up around the edges and were haggling over things. She saw a glimpse of a corral at the opposite end of the area. A man in a dark blue coat came up to the wagon. “Greetings! Are you here to sell?”

“Yes, or trade. And to look at livestock. We have nuts and shahma fleeces, and undyed shahma yarn.”

“Have you sold here before, sir?”

Kos shook his head, and the man pointed to a dark-blue portable building at the edge of the market. “You’ll need to get the rules and a sales tag from the market manager. Food is sold over by the fountain, and fleeces, yarn, and cloth are over here. You can get a map at the manager’s office.”

Kos gave the booth and the man both suspicious looks. “And if I don’t care to register?”

“You can still sell, but if someone asks you to leave, you have to, and you won’t be protected from theft as well. There’s no fee, but we, the city, likes to know who’s supposed to be here in the market and who’s scouting to cause mischief.”

That sounds reasonable, more reasonable than anything the Company ever did, Basil thought.

Kos considered, then handed Basil the reins. “Stay here.” He got down from the wagon and walked stiffly over to the manager’s box. He returned a very few minutes later, before Basil had time to do more than glance around this end of the market square. “That wasn’t so bad.” He sounded grudgingly pleased. “Basil, I’m going to go look at the animals. You and Tildie sell from the wagon, over there,” he pointed to a gap between two stalls, “and I’ll be back shortly. I’ll also find the overnight place for visitors.”

The women shrugged and Basil clicked her tongue, cuing the horses into motion. Once they parked, Tildie lowered the back of the wagon and began spreading out their wares while Basil unhitched the horses and led them to a watering trough. She let them drink a little, then took them back to the wagon and fed them some of the grain they’d brought. Several buyers stood at the end of the wagon-sleigh by the time Basil returned, and Tildie seemed to be holding her own. Basil, unoccupied for the moment, pulled her spindle and wool bag out from the box in the wagon and began working as she watched the people coming and going.

They seemed, if not prosperous, certainly not starving. She watched several individuals with miniature dung carts collecting the leavings of the animals passing through the market square. Even those in the plainest and most patched winter coveralls appeared clean and healthy. Well, we don’t have any major diseases yet, and the city is better off than some of the others. I wonder if the stories about the engineers kicking the company administrators out is true? And if the battle was as hard fought as that traveling merchant said. I wonder what it looks like after a battle? Lord, please may I never know. What the Book of Judges described didn’t sound all that pleasant, and the bits she’d seen in holos, or heard about from the reconquest of Deepak’s World, scared her. Lord, please may I never have to shoot people ever again, please. She still had nightmares of the man trying to crawl through the orchard.

She shook herself out of her wool gathering to find two plainly-dressed women, one in a very simple brown dress and cap, and one in a black dress with a bit of white trim at the collar and on her hat, and an elderly-looking man watching her with avid interest. “Your pardon, gentle lady,” the man began. “But are you making thread?”

“Yes, sir. I’m using a drop spindle.” The attention made her a little uncomfortable, but the people seemed harmless.

“Could you, please, if you don’t mind, do it slower so I can see how it works, please?” one of the women asked. Her timidity, and very plain dress, intrigued Basil. Are you his junior wife? Or a daughter?

“I think I can, but if you go too slow, the thread won’t spin well.” Basil drew a large handful of wool from her sack and raised her hands to chest height, then began feeding the wool into the twist from there. It felt awkward, and as soon as the drop weight reached her knees, she stopped and had to wind the thread on the carrier. It seemed tight and even, so Basil repeated the process as the women peered intently at her hands and at the weighted drop spindle.

“Why do you do it like that?” The second, less-starkly dressed woman asked. “Does it work better than using a machine?”

“Not really. A spinning machine makes tighter thread faster, and is much better for linen and cotton, but I’m on the go most of the day, and this lets me work while I’m doing other things like watching the children.”

Tildie’s voice interrupted. “Baa, there’s a man here asking about dying the yarn. Save me.”

“Excuse me,” and the trio nodded and let her go take care of business. They walked away deep in conversation about something, and Basil wondered if they intended to try spinning for themselves. “Yes, sir,” she asked the man Tildie pointed to.

“I noticed all your yarn and fleeces are undyed. Do you have any for sale that have colors?”

“No, sir. We’re working on it, but until we can get consistent color in an entire batch, and something more than dark brown, we’re not going to sell anything but the plain wool.” She hesitated, thinking for a moment before adding, “We do have a good dark blue, but the mordant makes the cloth smell very strongly for several days after we finish dying the batch.” She caught Tildie giving her a raised-eyebrow look and winked back. What do you want me to say? That it stinks so much we have to leave everything outside for a week at least to air before we can even think about bringing the yarn or fabric back into the building, even the barn? After the second try, the Peilov women and the Krehbiels agreed that it was work best done in summer, outdoors, by people with allergies or head colds!

“Ah, pity. I have a tailor shop, and we’ve had requests for bright red. We have fabric enough for a while, but I’m trying to plan ahead.”

“I’ll keep my eyes and ears open, sir, and see what we can devise,” Basil assured him. He bought four skeins of yarn and left, satisfied.

By the time Kos finally returned from looking at livestock, his wives had sold all the yarn and nuts, and over half the bundles of fleeces. “Any trouble?” He asked, giving Tildie a peck on the cheek.

She rolled her eyes, although Basil wasn’t sure if it was at her husband or the problem customer. “One woman threatened to have us thrown out of the city for selling dangerous, indigenous products without Company permission. Apparently paperhull nuts are not edible and will kill you on contact.”

“Are they, Baa?” Kos asked with a wink.

She sniffed and busied herself winding yarn. She’d almost filled the carrier and needed to tie off and switch out.

“Anyway, several people bustled her off, and one apologized. Apparently she’s not exactly in her right mind. She’s one of a group that thinks the company will return any day now, and that everyone needs to keep living as if the Company were still here, or we’ll all get punished for not filling out forms and for breaking the rules.”

Kos stroked the end of his beard and looked thoughtful. “Interesting,” he said quietly, after a glance around for potential customers. “I overheard someone proclaiming that the Most High sent the auroras as a punishment for some sin.” He, Tildie, and Basil all shrugged. Disasters bring the nuts out of the woodpile, Basil thought. Half the prophets warned about disasters looming because of disobedience, and the other half explained that the disaster happened because people didn’t listen to the first group.

“Since the market is closing for the day, I’ll hitch the horses and we’ll go to the lodging house. I found some potential animals, Basil, but nothing worth buying right at this instant.”

The lodging met Tildie’s standards for cleanliness, although she didn’t think the food was as good as what she made. “Of course not, dear,” Kos assured her. “No one can cook as well as you do.” Tildie’s eyes narrowed but her husband kept his serious and sincere look. For her part, Basil was wondering where the cook found fresh herbs this late in the year. When the young man serving them came back to remove the dishes, she asked.

“The Mennonites at the Heritage Center built hothouses for the city. They tap the extra heat from the municipal building. The mayor’s wife, Mrs. Babenburg, and the chief engineer’s son came up with the idea.”

It must be nice to live where the fusion generators still work, and you can heat entire buildings and have electric lights and machines, Basil sighed. But for how much longer would such luxuries last?

 

“How much longer will we have fusion power for everything?” Pete wondered aloud.

Don turned off his mini-computer and walked over to where Pete leaned against the wall, watching the generator do its thing through the heavy glass viewing port. “A generation, probably. Twenty five, thirty years? We’ll lose the relays, wiring, light bulbs, and other machines first. You know that we’re down to one rover?”

“Yes. Cynthia says we should have a funeral when it finally breaks down for good.” He’d never admit it, but he wondered if it wasn’t such a bad idea, having a formal ceremony to mark the final, full return to animal power.

“Wolfgang would be happy to write the eulogy.” Don’s partner occasionally wrote poems that made a teenager’s odes to dead trees sound positively upbeat and cheerful. “That Teutonic darkness showing or something like that.”

It’s probably more a delayed reaction to having to write chipper ad copy for the Company for so many years, Pete thought to himself.

Marie Montoya, Art and Ann’s adopted daughter, caught the two men as they got back to the administrative “palace,” as some people had tagged the official complex. “Sir, not to bother you, but Terry says that one Kossiusco Peilov from Crownpoint is staying at the lodge near the central market. Terry registered Peilov to sell wool and nuts at the market this afternoon, and asked around, since he knew you’d been wanting to get in contact with him.” Her words flowed out like a stream in spring spate, and Don turned away to hide a grin. Marie still couldn’t believe that Arturo, Ann, and the others wouldn’t toss her back out into the wilds, and tried a little too hard at times. This was one of those times.

“Thank you, Marie. Well done. Let me have a few minutes and I’ll send a message to Mr. Peilov to see if he wants to meet and talk about matters.”

“Yes, sir, and Terry says he thinks Peilov and his family are Jewish.”

That Pete already knew, but he just nodded. “Thank you. Good to know.” I’d better ask Fr. Mou about what that means.

Pete Babenburg’s note made Basil Peilov frown. “Is he with the Company?” she asked after she, Tildie, and Kos had retired to their rooms.

“No, he’s the head of Vindobona’s city government and runs the water system here. He’s an engineer of some kind,” Kos assured her. “That trader that came through just before the weather turned told David, Itzak and I about him. He’s trustworthy.” He petted her hand. “I think all three of us will meet with them tomorrow, after Tildie finishes her shopping and we look at some more horses. I don’t want draft horses for us, but something more all-around.”

Basil nodded emphatically as she brushed out her hair. “Oh mercy no. Those eat so much! They’re great for some things, but you can’t ride them, or use them for pack animals, and I don’t think anyone shorter than I am could harness and groom them.”

“Not without needing a ladder,” Kos chuckled. “And there’s some shahmas I’d like you to check. They look woolier than ours, if that makes sense.”

She smiled. “Maybe they’re just cleaned and brushed for show.” She’d had no idea how much dirt and sticks a sheep or shahma could carry around until the first time she’d helped with shearing. Ugh! Too bad it’s against Torah to sell unwashed fleeces by the pound. They’d have made their fortune and then some.

Kos took her hand again and drew her closer. “Speaking of cleaned and brushed, you look very nice this evening.”

She smiled in turn and embraced him. Tildie didn’t want Kos’s attentions, since she didn’t care to get pregnant this month, and had all but shoved Basil into Kos’s arms when Basil had asked if the older woman minded having a room to herself. Basil began unbuttoning her husband’s vest and he got the hint.

The next morning Tildie went marketing. Karina had sent them with a long list, about half of which Tildie, Kos, and Basil had decided against on the way to the city. Now Tildie set out with the remaining list, loaded for bear. Kos and Basil inspected general workhorses and shahma, along with some sheep that Basil liked, until their owner explained, “And of course you’ll keep them in a covered pen or barn. And you need to use nothing but electric clippers on them.” He’d pushed the thick, soft fleece apart and shown the animals’ wrinkly, loose skin. “Hand clippers just tear them up.”

Basil suspected it had more to do with incompetent shearers, but she couldn’t imagine buying animals that needed to be kept indoors all their lives. Maybe rent one of the rams and cross breed, she thought, but not a flock of the pure bred beasts, unless they’re not really as fragile as the man thinks. Kos agreed, and told the man that they’d have to think about it, but that they might buy a ram from him. The shahma looked much better than the ones they had at Crownpoint, and Kos bought two males and five females, to collect at a half-way point later in spring. The man grazed his flocks on city land in western end of the hills, so it wouldn’t be a hard trip, and Kos could find him easily.  They recorded the transaction with the beast market master, so they could have a neutral judge if something went wrong later on.

They met Tildie an hour after noon. Tired but triumphant, she announced, “I found everything but one, and that one I have instructions on how to make ourselves. The turner had sold out of his last pair of knitting needles, but he has instructions and I bought a set. He also has plans for a spinning wheel, and a list of materials, along with plans for a big loom.”

Kos nodded. “And you got the leather?”

“Some. They didn’t have the top quality, but what I found will serve.”

“Good. Let’s go meet with this Babenburg fellow and see what he wants,” Kos announced, taking Tildie’s arm and leading the way. Basil followed, watching people and shops both. Her first impression hadn’t been quite correct, she decided. There was more to buy, but not that much more than on Peilov’s lands and Donatello Bend. The shops did sell more tech-made goods and heavy things like cooking pots and big clay things. Basil lusted after the metal-toothed brushes she saw in one window, to use as carding combs, and decided to ask Kos if she could get a few after they finished meeting with Babenburg. I wonder what he wants? Unless it is news and information about the roads and crops: that makes sense.

The administrative building gave her the shivers, sparking too many memories of dealing with Company personnel and their threats. At the summer solstice, just after the last computer link with ColLandPlat failed completely, she, Kos, Karina and Tildie had built a bonfire and had burned Basil’s indenture papers. She’d been scared at first, then had danced with wild joy, drunk on the idea of freedom from the company. It was her own personal Passover and Purim rolled into one. The administrative building brought back her fear of the Company, even though she knew Colonial Plantation LTD no longer had any say in who managed Vindobona. A man in a dark blue coat waved them through a gate and pointed to a doorway. “Through there, Mr. Peilov, and a young lady in blue will show you to the meeting room.”

Tildie whispered something to her husband, and their guide showed them the restrooms first, so they could freshen up. “I wonder if they have electric laundry machines,” Basil mused as she washed her hands.

“Probably, but for how much longer?” Tildie asked, echoing Basil’s earlier thoughts.

The rejoined Kos and their guide. The young woman led the trio to a set of pale colored double doors, knocked, and opened one side. “Mr. Babenburg,” she explained. Basil followed Kos and Tildie into a large room with a big table in the middle. The pale blue walls and white trim contrasted with the dark wood, and Basil stopped to admire the painting of the hills west of the city. She’d never seen a real painting before. She turned around when she heard, “Good afternoon. I’m Pete Babenburg, the mayor of Vindobona.”

“Kos Peilov,” Kos said, shaking the extended hand. “My wife Matilda and my wife Susannah.” Basil nodded when her name was called.

“I’m Cynthia Babenburg, Pete’s wife,” a middle-aged woman replied.

“My better half,” Pete said with a smile. Basil felt better about things. “The broad gentleman lurking in the corner is Arturo Montoya. He and his wife Ann are in charge of security. Gerald White over there,” and Basil noted the drably-dressed, greying man with a bandaged hand, “is in charge of municipal utilities with Don McInich, who is currently up to his elbows in a technical difficulty.” Pete pointed to another woman, with very dark eyes and skin. “Andrea Okofor, our personnel specialist. You’ve met Terry, who handles commerce and the non-criminal courts.”

“My wife sends her regrets,” Gerald White told Tildie. “She’s trying to bring order to the school plan, without grossly offending anyone or throwing any other committee members into the river.”

Cynthia smiled, laughing a little. “Why not? It might get some sense into them.”

“That’s the problem,” Gerald explained with a nod to Kos. “Apprenticeships are too sensible. They want computer courses and holo teachers. And no more learning animal husbandry.”

Basil and Kos laughed a little. “Sorry,” he explained. “Family joke.”

“Please, sit if you would like,” Pete invited. Kos, Basil and Tildie did, and Cynthia and Ann settled next to the other women. “I’ll try to be brief, Mr. Peilov. You are the closest thing to a government west of the hills. We, that is the city, is the closest thing to a functioning government east of them. I’d like to stay friendly and to work out some kind of mutual recognition and possible mutual assistance agreement, if possible. Not now,” Pete assured Kos, “but over the next year or so.”

Art Montoya and his wife nodded their agreement. “We’ve withstood an army of rabble, but now that people from the edge of the hills and the other side of the river are looking to the city for leadership and assistance, we thought we’d better get on good terms with our neighbors.”

Kos tipped his head to the side, considering the men’s words. “I am all for being friendly, and for keeping trade and exchange open between my family’s properties and Donatello Bend area, and here. But beyond that I’m not inclined to rush into anything. We don’t need much from you at the moment.”

Pete nodded. He wasn’t surprised, although he was a little disappointed. “If you have enough surplus goods to be able to trade, then I don’t think you’d be eager to rush into anything. But as things stabilize, assuming they do, it would be good to have some communication channels and connections in place, should you need us or we need you.”

“Our tech advantage won’t last forever,” Gerald said. “Not all of it,” he corrected after Pete glared at him.

“But you, and we,” Art added, pointing to Pete, “have established pockets of stability. If we can connect those pockets and reinforce each other, should more trouble come God forbid, then a lot of people will be better off. And the stronger we are, the less likely other people are to act stupid.”

“That I can agree with,” Kos said. “We’ve fought off raiders twice already. I assume that means the cities are as bad as rumor had it.”

“If you mean the cities have collapsed completely and in some cases the survivors are fighting each other for the scraps, yes. One of our goals is to expand settlement out, like you have, and like is going on south of here at Starheart. That way we can start filling in the gaps so it is harder to sneak an army of any kind, rabble or otherwise, into the area.” Art rubbed his nose.

Ann added, “We’re not worrying about extraterrestrial attacks any more. The Gormies can’t find us, and without space traffic and transmissions, we’re a lot less tempting to anyone else. And there’s not a hell of a lot we could do to fight them off, when it comes down to it. It’s the local hostiles we need to worry about.”

Pete noticed Kos’s younger wife biting her lip. Bad memories?

She spoke. “Are . . . are you going to settle the areas with indentured workers?”

“Oh hell no,” Cynthia snapped. “Pardon my language, but no more indentures. Apprenticeships yes, and mutual obligation contracts, but no more damn indentures. Half of them weren’t any better than slave labor. And no more sub-setts, either.” She declared, “We can’t afford it, and it’s not fair to anyone. Everyone has a skill or a way to help, and if you want to improve yourself, then more power to you and the city won’t stand in your way. Unless you want to do it by liberating your neighbor’s property, that is.”

Kos gave Pete a sympathetic look. “I hope your wife doesn’t meet my senior wife,” he half-whispered. “They’d take over the planet.”

“Or kill each other,” Matilda Peilov muttered under her breath. Susannah Peilov tried to cover a smile with one hand and failed.

An hour later, after a light meal of vegetables, eggs, and other non-meat things, the Peilovs departed. Pete leaned back in his chair. “I never want to play cribbage against him,” he stated.

“And I won’t let my wife play him. They’d end up owning the entire city.” Gerald rolled his shoulders and neck. “He keeps his cards close.”

“Don’t blame him.” Art folded his arms and sat back, rotating the chair left and right. “He’s pretty well set and he doesn’t know us well enough to trust us yet. And vice versa. We’ll make good allies, but if I were him, I wouldn’t want to go any farther than that for now.”

“And I want to learn more about Matilda’s cooking. She and the others divided the entire place up. Karina, the senior wife, does general administration of the household, Matilda handles food, and Susannah looks after the animals and makes thread and cloth and so on.” Cynthia shook her head. “I’m not sure it would work for everyone, but they manage. Oh, and Susannah’s a former indenture, from Deepak’s Planet. She’s a veterinary technician and agro-engineer as well as everything else.”

Pete felt his eyes bulging and Art whistled. “Damn. No wonder Kos was so interested in the livestock.”

“And in the water supply,” Cynthia added. “They fortified a year and a bit ago, after the first attack. Half of his people won’t fight. They’re Mennonites.” Art and Ann groaned, but quietly. Pete didn’t blink, just nodded.

“So we have an unofficial agreement with the leader of the next largest community for mutual recognition and free trade,” Pete announced. “I’ll call that a win.”

Gerald smiled, showing all his teeth. “You realize you’ve become a diplomat, don’t you?”

The door opened and Prof. Starhemberg limped in. He looked around. “Aw, fug. Did I miss them?”

“Yes, but we negotiated a treaty of mutual recognition without any great difficulties,” Pete repeated.

Martin sat in one of the now-empty chairs. “Drat. I wanted to be where I could see history, not just teach it.”

Art growled, “We’ve been living through quite enough history as it is, thank you, Sar Major.”

“Funny, that’s what Helga said this morning,” Martin replied, undeterred. “That woman has no sense of adventure.”

Pete studied the men and women in the room. Three former Space Marines, one of them an academic as well and probably touched in the head. One civil engineer with delusions of managerial skill, one civil engineer who has taken on the Sisters’ as a project, and one woman who still loves me despite everything. What a strange way to start a government.

“Speaking of women with sense,” Art leaned forward. “Have the Sisters settled in?”

Gerald nodded. “Wolfgang could tell you more, since he’s been working with Fr. Mou to help them organize everything, but yes. They are helping with the new church, maintenance and hospitality and such, as well as nursing and looking after orphans and foundlings. A few stormed off and set up a craftwork shop to support themselves, and two have gotten married, but some widows joined the group. They are a bit like the old Catholic nuns, except they don’t have a pope to pledge obedience to. They really fill a niche as far as social work, with a lot more common sense than the old Company people had.”

Cynthia and Ann both grew sober. “Now is not the time to discuss it, but we need to be thinking about children and families. We barely have enough people to keep things running as it is,” Ann sighed.

Cynthia wagged her finger. “And multiple wives is not the answer, Peter Thomas Babenburg!”

Pete tried to look innocent. Martin saved him. “You know, in some cultures, situational polygamy did help boost populations as well as providing basic social stability until the short-term crisis passed,” he began, sounding as if he were about to lecture. “Polyandry also has some advantages, although not necessarily in this situation, given the social constraints at play and the basic limitations of human reproduction.” He paused to inhale and Ann interrupted him.

“Oh no you don’t,” she growled, Cynthia nodding in firm agreement. “No lectures and we’ll tell Helga if you start advocating for second and third wives.”

Pete, Art, and Gerald all eased away from the women. You started it, Martin, you deal with it. Female of the species and all that. I’m not a genius but even I know when to run.

Martin had his hands up and a befuddled look on his face when the other men abandoned him to his fate. “Ladies, I assure you that I have no intention of recommending polygamy as public policy,” they heard as the door closed silently behind them.

Gerald nudged Art. “I though Marines never abandoned their own.”

“We also try to avoid lost causes, especially self-inflicted ones,” Art reminded him.

 

Four years later, as the spring rise receded, Pete watched Art and Ann as they finished packing. “I admire your determination, but I question your sanity.”

Ann wiped a little sweat and nodded. “If it weren’t for the youngsters, I’d question our sanity as well. But they need a few mature role models.”

“So why are you taking Art along?” Pete ducked as Art tossed a wadded-up cleaning rag at his head.

Pete knew the answer, as did Ann. Women needed men with them and not just for company and pleasure. The years since the Great Fires, as some people had started calling the aurora outbursts, had shown the truth of that. In a world where survival depended more and more on human and animal muscle, men had an advantage. Especially a man with a good wife, as Pete well knew.

“You know that Peilov’s daughter and her family are settling near the fort?”

“Are they? I’d heard they weren’t going to stay in town, but I didn’t know where they wanted to go.” Pete admired their ambition. He wondered if the connections between Peilovna, as people has started calling the western settlement, and Vindobona would be getting even closer, since they had so many children of similar ages. He certainly wasn’t going to push anything, but he wouldn’t stand in the way, even if Kos Peilov was a little strange. Well, he’s strange in ways that are useful and even beneficial, and he’s not shoving his ideas at anyone. Which is better than some. Fr. Mou had gone a little odd over the past year, taking up the idea that over dependence on technology could endanger the state of one’s soul and writing an ever-lengthening theological treatise about the auroras. He’d also gone into honorable retirement, cared for by the Sisters, and could be safely ignored.

“So, I notice you waited until the buildings were finished before you made you move official,” Pete half-asked Arturo.

Now grey haired, Art nodded. “I’m lazy. And old. Let the youngsters do the hard stuff, that’s what they’re for. And that boy Don and Wolfgang sponsored, Martin? He’s got an eye for fortifications and military geography. We decided to let him give it a shot, and he’s bloomed. I want to encourage that sort of talent.”

“Good point.” I don’t want you ten days north of here, Art. I want you in town, helping me. But things changed, and Art had a point. They needed to be letting the next generation learn to lead and live.

Art pulled Pete aside as two young men in blue carried several crates past them. “Has Gerald sorted out the tannery proposal?”

Pete studied the floor for a moment. “Yes, but I had to intervene. Don wanted it upstream of the bridge. You know, he’s a hell of an electricity guy, but he’s clueless when it comes to sanitation. Gerald lost his cool and I finally shouted both of them down. The tanneries, dye works, cleaning, anything with noxious chemicals will be past that little island downstream of the city walls.” The island had appeared when the river shifted a little following the Battle Flood, as everyone called it. “Tom’s son, the fishing master, is kinda peeved, but I don’t think water quality will be a problem for the fish for quite a while.”

“Yeah, I mean, everyone knows what fish do in water already.”

Pete winced at the old joke. You know, I bet Noah got tired of hearing that, back on Old Earth.

“But it will be a problem at some point,” Art reminded Pete. He jumped topics. “We’ll rebuild and return to the stars.”

“Yes, we will. Not our generation, but we’ll return.”

Pete left the Montoyas to their packing. He smiled as several children waved, and he waved back. Their parents nodded, and one tipped his hat to Pete. He’d never wanted to be a leader, but since when had the Lord ever granted every wish? They had walls and water, clean water, and with that and a wise wife and good children, a man could do almost anything.

That night he read a letter from Fritz Gunter. He and Marie had settled at Starland, after a brief stop at Heilbrown. They had three and two-thirds children, and Fritz wanted to know if they could name the pending arrival Cynthia, if it proved to be a girl. If not, it would be either Alex or Martin.

“Dear, do you mind having another namesake?” He asked his wife.

“No, as long as we don’t have to go to the baptism,” she replied. “Whose?”

“Fritz and Maria. They’re now down at Starland and she’s due with number four.” Cynthia shivered and Pete picked up her hand from the arm of her chair and squeezed it. Sabrina’s birth had almost killed her mother, and they’d agreed no more children. But Pete junior and Sabrina both appeared healthy and hearty, thanks be.

“I don’t see how Basil Peilov does it,” Cynthia complained. “Manages the animals and four children at the same time without getting them mixed up.”

“She probably has from time to time, but just won’t admit it. And,” he hated to mention it, “she is a bit younger than we are.” I’d thought she was in her late thirties when we met, she’s so mature. I didn’t realize that she’s only in her mid twenties. Dear Lord, she scraped and clawed her way out of the slums so hard, I wonder what she could have done if she’d been given a real chance by a real family?

He and Cynthia thought about things for several quiet minutes. “So, what are you getting Art and Ann as a going-away present?” she inquired at last.

“I thought a pack mule might be useful. Although I understand Helga Starhemberg’s threatened to send her husband along in a crate without holes, so maybe a small wagon?”

“That woman is a saint to put up with him,” she sighed. “There must be more to him than I realize.”

Or she’s just as mad as he is, in her own way. No that Pete would ever say it aloud. He did not care to find himself on the wrong side of the “ladies auxiliary,” as he’d come to think of the leading women of the city. We men have our jobs and you have one just as hard and just as deserving of respect.

Instead he said, “No doubt, dear.” It was safer that way.

The End

Want More? Click the Colplatschki Chronicles page to follow the further adventures of the Babenburg, Peilov, and other survivors’ descendants.

(C) 2014, 2016 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved.

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