No Ship for Tranquebar

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Marlon Pridmore was more than a small town loan officer. He also loved to tinker and make things—the more difficult, the better. Then, he found himself caught up in the Ring of Fire along with his whole town of Grantville and flung into the seventeenth century with no hope of return. He decided to ease his frustrations by building his first airship—which he also intended to be his last.

Or so he thought. Mike Stearns, the president of the New United States, had other plans—and so, he discovered, did some gentlemen of the Danish East India Company.

From being frustrated, Marlon went to being at least half-terrified. Could he actually build an airship that would make it all the way to India?

Somewhere in the Bay of Bengal
October 1635

The deck plummeted. Anders Kiersted, captain of the Danish trading vessel Pelican, braced himself behind the helmsman. “Steady as you go, Kris.”

The helmsman said nothing, just continued to fight with the rudder in the stormy seas.

Anders closed his eyes briefly in prayer, then said, “Not Ran, not Neptune, not even the Devil is going to keep me from getting this old bucket into port,” he ended with a growl.

“Captain! On the bow!”

Anders opened his eyes to see a huge wave that looked higher even than the mast. He brushed the helmsman aside. “Hold onto something!” Driving straight into the wave would flood the ship and sink them for sure. There was just one chance. Anders spun the wheel. Just a couple of points would do it, and they would climb the wave at an angle, instead of driving through it.

With a rush the wave was on them. The stem-post bit into the wave, and then they were climbing, like a shot fired from a cannon. Much faster than he’d expected, they reached the top and the ship fell like a stone.

As they fell down the face of the wave, the main mast itself seemed to shift significantly, up and down. Then they were in the trough that followed the wave, and the ship smashed into the water. The whole ship shook. Something was wrong. He felt it in the helm.

The carpenter came running up from below, “Captain! Captain! We’re leaking. I think we’ve cracked the keel.”

Bank of Grantville
October 1635

“You been flying lately?” Coleman Walker was leaning on the corner of Marlon Pridmore’s desk.

The question was definitely not what Marlon was expecting. “Sure, Coleman. Almost every weekend, especially when the weather is good. You want to go up for a ride, or something?”

Coleman grinned. “Now why would I want to do that? No, it’s about this thing I have on my desk. Come on.”

Together they walked into Coleman’s office. There was a packet of parchment, beribboned and stamped with wax. Marlon considered the document. “What is it? Somebody trying to buy us out?”

Coleman sat down in his leather chair and motioned for Marlon to sit. “I’m not really sure. It comes from someone named Cornelius Holgarssen, who represents something called the Merchant Bankers of Copenhagen. They’re making noise about some kind of financial agreement with us. But they will negotiate only with you. They want to meet on their own ground, and they want you to bring your airship.”

“I haven’t really heard any rumors about Denmark lately,” Marlon said. “Do you have any idea what they really want?”

Coleman picked up the document and flipped a couple of pages, then found what he was looking for. “They say it’s something about establishing common guidelines for financial transactions, but that’s just fancy double-talk. It could mean almost anything. It doesn’t really sound like enough to drag somebody in person all the way to Copenhagen.”

“Coleman, how long do you think this meeting of theirs will run? You know it’s going to take a while just to get there.”

“I don’t know, Marlon. But the bank, and Grantville for that matter, can’t afford to alienate any of the parties in Europe right now.”

“Are they offering enough to make it worth our while?”

Coleman handed the papers to Marlon. “Yeah, I think so. I really think you should go.”

Marlon took a couple of minutes to look over the highlights of the request, and stood up. “Reva’ll enjoy the chance to get away for a while. And my trainee, Manfried, seems to be working out pretty well. I was about ready to cut him loose, and let him try it solo. Now’s a good time. When do I need to be there?”

“They’ve requested you to attend a meeting on the first of December. I’d say give yourself three weeks travel time, so that would give you about three weeks or so to get ready and to close up anything you have on your desk here.”

“There’s no telling how long I might be gone. It seems down-timers can’t buy a pair of shoes without haggling for a week.”

Coleman laughed. “Take all the time you need, just don’t fall out of your balloon and forget to come back.”

∞∞∞

Marlon came out of the office, and went over to his wife’s station. “Reva, you busy? Let’s go get some lunch.”

Reva shook her head. “You know very well that it’s a good hour and a half after lunch time. If I let you, Marlon, you’d spend all day at a restaurant wasting time.”

“Yeah, I know. But there’s things we need to talk about, and I need a cup of coffee.”

∞∞∞

Reva leaned forward and put her elbows on the table. “Now just exactly what was in that fancy message that got you and Coleman tied up in knots?”

“It’s a request for a meeting with a bunch of money people in Copenhagen. They want us to come out and do some business. You’ve been wanting to get away for a vacation anyway, and they asked for us by name. They want us to take the Upwind, but that doesn’t surprise me. Everybody wants to see it. Coleman thinks that there’s more than to it than that but he’s not sure what. You feel like going?”

Marlon knew that Reva always loved travel, even with the uncomfortable carriages and bad road conditions. She’d loved new places all of her life.

“When do we have to be there?”

Marlon loved watching her eyes light up at the thought of going somewhere. “The papers request my presence on December first. Coleman thinks it will take about three weeks to get there. We’ll have to figure out how to bring the Upwind along. And I haven’t got all of that thought through yet. Heck, I haven’t even really got a finalized hauler arrangement.”

The food arrived, and they took a moment to eat a bit before continuing. Marlon said, “Coleman thinks it may all be just an excuse to see one of them newfangled flying machines. Still, they’re talking about a lot of money, and some agreements we could really use. Seems like a lot just to see some flying thing. What do you think we need for the trip?”

Reva considered. She was always the one to organize their various excursions in the past. “Well, I don’t want to sleep in the dirt this time, so you better find some way to get us off the ground while we’re traveling. And I don’t want to walk the whole way either.”

“Well, I got an idea about that. I think I can cobble together a small trailer house for you. We could take that old gooseneck pole trailer and put that little 8 x 12 shed out back on it. I’ll build a rope bed, and we can put our mattress on that. We’ll have room for your foot locker, and food and everything. Then we can get that friend of Bernard’s with his short wagon and horses. We put a fifth wheel connection in the bed of the wagon and we have our fifth wheel. You might even be able to nap as we go. And it will save us setting up camp every day.”

“That sounds good. We could take a gas camp stove too. Why do you think they want you to take your toy?”

“Funny thing, they asked for it specifically. Seems it’s a bigger celebrity than we are. We’ll probably need to take a five hundred gallon propane tank too. Especially if we need to fly that thing more than one or two times. But if it helps to sell the deal, I don’t mind flying around with them.”

 

Merchant Bankers of Copenhagen Offices

October 1635

Cornelius Holgarssen looked up from his desk as the door to his office opened. It was Eric, his secretary. “Yes, Eric?”

The young man appeared definitely nervous. “Sir, you have a visitor on his way up. I know you’re very busy, but I’m certain you want to see him.”

“Really? Who is it?” Cornelius was already straightening papers and removing his teacup. Eddie Cantrell called it “conspicuous consumption” to import tea, but what was the point of becoming wealthy if one didn’t display that wealth.

“His Majesty, King Christian.” Eric was practically vibrating. He was new to the office, and had not really been near royalty before.

“Nothing to worry about, son. His Majesty and I often consult. Please show him in, and then go get some tea. And make sure that we have those little berry tarts. I’m sure he would love those.”

Eric hurried away. Cornelius arranged some chairs near a small table, and smoothed his doublet.

Eric opened the door, and bowed as Christian stepped past him. “Cornelius, how nice to see you,” the king said.

Cornelius bowed, and then gestured toward the chairs. “Thank you, Your Majesty. Won’t you sit?”

As they made themselves comfortable, Cornelius asked, “Your Majesty, what brings you out on such a beautiful day?”

“I’m concerned about this venture that you and your bankers have been involved in. I know you’ve already spent more money than you expected. And now you’ve invited that American pilot . . . ?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. We have been working on this idea for some time. You’ll remember Rikard the shipwright? We inherited him from your flights project. He’s in charge of the logistics. He’s gathered a significant amount of material to build the airship, and has many versions of plans underway. Also we have started clearing for the foundation of the workspace, the hangar. Rikard has many serious questions, though, concerning airships. And we feel that only somebody with more experience can answer them. We believe that person is Marlon Pridmore from Grantville.”

King Christian nibbled on his moustache, deep in thought. “So what exactly are your plans? And how old is this fellow?”

“Herr Pridmore is reported to be in his late fifties or early sixties. And I think you already know most of our plans, Your Majesty. We want to bring Denmark back to prominence in trade. We have the Baltic, and the North Sea, but we need to get goods overland to the markets of Europe, and we need to do it faster than overland travel can accomplish right now.”

The king leaned forward. “But Cornelius, are you sure this is the best method? I already have an airplane. Can’t it carry what you need?”

“Your Majesty, how much cargo can your plane carry?”

Christian shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe a half ton. Maybe more. I’d have to ask the experts.”

“I’ve read about airships in your encyclopedia, Your Majesty. Even the relatively small one that Herr Pridmore has constructed can carry two tons, maybe more.”

“And what of the expense, Cornelius? Look what’s already been spent in your failed attempts.” Christian stood and paced toward the windows and back. “I can offer you a Royal charter and access to my workshop, nothing more. The clerks are already complaining about my extravagance. I don’t want to risk it on something that won’t pay off. Your Danish East India Company is already enough of an embarrassment. Five ships! In more than fifteen years, all we ever got back is five ships! I don’t care that you’re transporting items on other ships from England or France. We don’t get any taxes on those. We need the money that trade brings in, we need it here, and your ships need to make port. The royal coffers will not be able to sustain that sort of project again, you know that.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. We had not planned to request assistance. That’s why we’re operating through the Merchant Bankers of Copenhagen. This is not a Danish project, but speculative spending by the bankers.”

King Christian strode across the room again. It was clear that the problems of state weighed heavily on him today. “I hold you responsible for the whole thing, Cornelius.” With that, he opened the heavy doors himself.

He turned and shook his finger at Cornelius. “Don’t mention any of this to that American until we have him safely here. I don’t want to start a bidding war over his expertise. The French would love to get this kind of advance over the Germanies. And let me know when he’s going to fly that thing. That will be really something to see.”

 

Grantville

November 1635

Bernard Brenner was frowning. He was standing on the front porch of the home his family shared with the Pridmores. The late afternoon sun turned the front yard a deep golden brown, and two young people were at the gate, hand in hand. He couldn’t keep silent any longer. “Hanna, it’s time for you to help your mother with dinner. Herr Pridmore and his wife will be home soon.”

Even that didn’t break the two young people apart. Bernard could see his daughter look up into the eyes of Ulrich, the young man with her. He could see her adoring glance, and knew that his troubles were even more serious than he had believed.

Another moment of Hanna and Ulrich murmuring to each other, and Bernard cleared his throat more loudly than necessary. Hanna threw a worried glance at her father, then dropped Ulrich’s hand, and hurried past Bernard, and into the house without a word.

Bernard looked at Ulrich for a moment. “Young man, I think it’s time you and I had a talk.”

Ulrich’s face betrayed his worry. Silently he followed Bernard, sat when directed, and waited.

“I have noticed lately that when Hanna attends group activities, these are the same activities you choose to attend. And I have noticed that you walk her home as often as four or five days a week. I need to know your intentions, and your capability to take care of my daughter.”

Ulrich gulped. “Herr Brenner, I love your daughter. She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I have been released from the Army, and I have been working as an apprentice in Nat Davis’ shop for a couple of months now. They all think I have good prospects down there. And right now, machinists are in demand all over Europe. When I finish my training, I’ll have more opportunities than you can imagine.”

“You have no idea what I can imagine. As a matter of fact, right now I’m imagining a lot of things that are not beneficial to your well-being. Hanna is only just turned nineteen, and I don’t want you interfering with her future. Neither of you is old enough, yet, to be thinking of marriage.”

Ulrich had nothing to say to this statement. He just frowned miserably at the floor.

After a moment of silence, Bernard took pity on the young man, and continued in a more friendly voice. “I have an idea that may get you ahead faster than you think. You know that Herr Pridmore is preparing to take his airship to Denmark. And there is nobody besides Herr Pridmore that knows more about the airship than you.”

Ulrich looked up from the floor, and his eyes were alight with possibilities. Still he said nothing, letting Bernard continue.

“I think it would be wise for you to accompany Herr Pridmore to Copenhagen. You can use the money he’ll pay for driver and assistant. I know he’ll need one, and hasn’t hired anyone else yet. What do you think?”

Ulrich was silent no longer. He sprang to his feet, and shoved his hand at Herr Brenner. “Oh, sir. I think this is the best of all possibilities. I was speaking with Herr Lawler this morning, and he said his friend Arie De Vries is there already. Maybe he can pick up my apprenticeship, and I can continue to learn everything I can about airships. I will be able to afford a home and family so much quicker this way.”

Bernard stood and shook Ulrich’s hand, and before he could say another word, the young man had vacated the porch. Well, at least he will be far away from Hanna. Perhaps he will meet someone else.

∞∞∞

Marlon hadn’t been this busy since the days just before the first flight of the Upwind. He wanted to make sure he had whatever he might need, so he was sorting his Hot Air Enthusiast magazines and any technical papers needed to describe how the Upwind worked.

Just now, though, he was not sorting or packing. He was reading. He had come across one of the books that Reva had given him for Christmas many years ago. It was a coffee table book with photographs of hot air balloons and airships. He always enjoyed it, but it was still almost like new with the original dust cover.

He was about to return the book to the bookshelf of his den, when he had a thought. This book certainly contained more information than any encyclopedia he’d ever seen. So he packed it in his luggage on the off chance that he needed to present anything at court. The letter didn’t mention the king, but Marlon liked to be prepared.

∞∞∞

Reva was at her best organizing the trip. Right now she stood in the kitchen, surrounded by everything she thought she needed. “Hanna, I can’t think of anything else I could need for the couple of months we’ll be there.”

Agnes put her hands on her hips. “No, Frau Pridmore, but what about Christmas? Next week on the calendar, we were supposed to start baking. What do we do now?”

“Well, it’s late enough in the year, that I won’t be here for the holiday. I’ll send gifts home from Copenhagen, and depend on you to make what’s needed. I’ve looked over my reserves, and I’m practically out of chocolate. I don’t know what I’ll do for that, but I’ll worry about it later. You have the recipes we used last Christmas. Just be sure that my brother’s kids get something special.”

Agnes turned toward the sink, and surreptitiously dabbed her eyes. They had been living in the same house for almost four years, and this sudden departure was a little hard for her to take.

Hanna saw her mother trying to get herself under control, and began to cry as well. “Oh, Frau Pridmore. I will miss you so much.”

“Well, for heaven’s sake.” Reva pulled a hanky out of her pocket, and sniffled for a moment. “You two are going to make me cry too. It’s not like I’ll be gone forever. We’re just going to Copenhagen for a little while. We’ll be back.”

Agnes took a deep breath, and turned back from the sink. “Of course you will. It’s not like there are marauding armies roaming the countryside. It’s perfectly safe. And you will be able to write letters, won’t you?”

“Of course I’ll write. And I look forward to hearing from you as well.”

Finally, once they were in control again, Reva said, “We better get all this out on the porch so that Ulrich can load it into the wagon. I just hope there’s room for us to sleep. I might have packed a little more heavily than I should have.”

∞∞∞

Coleman looked worried. “Now Marlon, make sure that you have all the papers in order. Did you get another formal doublet made? We don’t know how many high-power meetings you’ll have to attend. We don’t want them to think we’re a bunch of hillbillies out here.”

Marlon stifled a grin. Coleman was the kind of boss that liked to worry about the details. Marlon’s briefcase included a large packet containing the bank’s proposals and positions. The inner envelope had stamps and ribbons galore.

Coleman continued. “You know what we need. Don’t let them pull a fast one on us. You have the bank’s power of attorney. And if you need it, get on the radio and talk to me. If we have to, I’ll pull the Federal Reserve card out of our hat.”

Marlon offered his hand to his friend. “You got it, Coleman. I’ll get the best deal we can.”

Tranquebar, Southeastern India
November 25, 1635

Roelant Crappé, Governor of the Danish Colony of Tranquebar, sat back at his desk, and sipped his tea. Roelant had been gathering cargo for years, and this batch looked particularly interesting. Aside from the normal stuff, cotton cloth and things like that, Nicholas had acquired a truly massive shipment of nutmeg.

For many years, the Portuguese would not tell anybody where nutmeg was coming from. But now, even though it was an open secret, it was difficult but not impossible to find. Roelant had made a few deals, bribed several captains, and obtained more than five tons of the valuable spice.

“The ship has just arrived in the harbor, sir.” Roelant looked up. His assistant, Chander, was standing in his doorway.

“Very well let’s walk over and see what’s going on.”

When they reached the docks, Roelant was astounded. He had seen many ships arrive, but none in such a truly appalling condition. The main mast was askew, the railings battered beyond recognition, and the sails were in shreds.

Roelant stepped up, ready to greet Captain Kiersted and welcome him to India. Just as the gang plank was dropped, a groan shook the ship stem to stern. Roelant was afraid for his life as the mainmast shuddered back and forth for a moment. It looked as though the tall wooden spar would tumble down on top of them, but it plunged through the bottom of the keel, and into the harbor below.

Captain Kiersted, standing on the quarterdeck, threw his hands in the air then started to shout. Sailors scurried trying to save the ship, but it was too much for them. Slowly but surely, the ship sank into the water. Just before it settled into the mud, sailors jumped over the edge like escaping rats.

Captain Kiersted climbed up onto the dock and shook the water out of his hair, then stood before Roelant. “I’ve got men already going for the money chest. We’ll haul it up momentarily. At least the only cargo we were hauling was ballast, and those rocks won’t be hurt by the water. I am afraid however that the Pelican is never sailing anywhere again.”

“Captain, how did this happen?” Roelant asked.

“We encountered a storm as we were rounding the southern coast. We were doing all right until this really enormous wave tried to swallow us. We crossed it quite handily but as we slid down the other side and hit bottom, the mast rose out of its socket and smashed down into the keel and broke it. Our ship’s carpenter had a large screw holding her together long enough for us to get here. But with every movement through the waves, the ship was slowly tearing itself to bits.”

Roelant said, “There’s an English ship due to leave here sometime this week. We can send a message back with them. Most of the cargo I had for you will last until another of our ships makes it in. But some, I worry, will deteriorate before we can get it back to Denmark.”

 

Copenhagen

November 1635

Marlon and Reva arrived in Copenhagen earlier than they expected. Ulrich jumped down with ease as Marlon creaked down from the hard wagon seat, and tried to smooth some of the wrinkles from his clothes.

The last couple of days had been a little difficult, and because of the condition of the roads Marlon’s back was complaining bitterly. Ulrich went forward to see to the horses. Marlon stretched slightly, and then turned to help Reva down. She whispered. “Heads up, Swordfish. I think we have company.”

When he had her safely on the ground, he turned and saw a delegation of men coming from one of the buildings on the square. They all had what he thought of as Van Dyke beards, and were very well dressed.

“Herr Pridmore, I presume?” The speaker was an older man, possibly the same age as Marlon, on the edge of sixty. He was a little shorter, had white hair and beard and piercing blue eyes. “I am Cornelius Holgarssen.”

∞∞∞

The next evening, Marlon and Reva were guests of honor at a reception in Herr Holgarssen’s home. Reva was nervous. In truth, she felt more comfortable with the servants than she did with the rich folk that filled the house.

She held tight on Marlon’s arm as they stood in the reception line at the door. There was no way she would remember all these names.

Then she saw a familiar face. It was Henny De Vries. “Henny, I didn’t know you had moved to Copenhagen. Are there other up-timers here?”

Henny smiled and patted Reva’s hand. “You have no idea, dear. Arie and I love it. It’s not like America was, but it’s not like the Europe we remember either. I’m glad to see you here. I hope you have a wonderful time.” She gave Reva a hug, and continued on into the reception.

After that, Reva was more comfortable. There were several expatriate Americans living in Copenhagen, and she never knew. She lost count after about ten, but they seemed to keep coming.

∞∞∞

Marlon was also amazed at the number of familiar faces he saw here. “Dori, didn’t I just finish training you? When did you arrive?”

Dori Grooms laughed. “Oh, Mr. Pridmore. I’ve been here quite a while. You remember I had twins? They’re almost a year old now, and I left them at home with the nanny. I needed a break tonight.”

Marlon grinned. “I can see that. Why don’t you go in and get a seat.”

The rest of the evening was like old home week. After the reception line, Marlon and Reva settled into a parlor and many of the Americans gathered around them. After a while, very little German or Danish was spoken. Everything was comfortably in English.

Dave Caine was laughing just like he did back home in the bar. “Remember the time that Marlon here said he was going fishing, when really he was . . . ”

Marlon interrupted. “No need for that story, Dave. We want our hosts to think I’m responsible. Why don’t you have another beer instead.”

The party broke up late that night. Marlon and Reva felt very welcomed indeed.

∞∞∞

They were provided with a small but sumptuous townhouse. The Upwind and airship equipment was stored near an open area outside of town. It took Reva a couple of days to get settled, and to become accustomed to the idea of not working. That was a new experience for her. But she soon realized that it freed her to enjoy the city of Copenhagen. She began daily walks and even carriage rides doing sightseeing and buying interesting things in the markets, often accompanied by one or another up-timer.

Marlon let her go. He only had a couple of days to prepare for his first meeting with the Merchant Bankers association.

December first arrived and Marlon, dressed in his new doublet with its lace collar, left the house with the briefcase containing the beribboned agreement.

The first meeting with Cornelius Holgarssen and bankers association was almost as involved as a circus. Marlon was not quite sure how many of the throngs of people around him were bankers, and how many were secretaries and servants. There were formal introductions, formal toasts, formal declarations of friendship and formal handshaking.

On an English Ship near the Cape of Good Hope

December 1635

Captain Kiersted stood on the quarterdeck. He made sure to stay out of everybody’s way. His position on the quarterdeck was only a courtesy by the English Captain, Niles Henderson.

The English ship had come into port and Governor Roelant had ordered the loading of enormous amounts of cloth on board. It seemed like acres of cotton had come on board, more cloth than Anders had seen in many years. Anders remembered Roelant saying, “I don’t dare risk shipping the bulk of the spices. That ship doesn’t have enough space to put the waterproof airtight containers in. And I greatly fear that we would have damage to a large part of our cargo on the return voyage.”

Captain Kiersted patted his pocket, checking again to see that the packet was there. Somehow they had to get a ship to Tranquebar and to retrieve the valuable spices that were still there.

Copenhagen

December 1635

Just after lunchtime, the front door opened. Marlon was back. Reva, who had been waiting, jumped up and hugged him. “Swordfish! How did it go? What happened? Do you have any better idea why we’re here?” As she spoke, Reva was busy helping Marlon out of his tight jacket.

Once he was relieved of the hot layers of brocade, Marlon went into the sitting room and signaled for beer. “Come sit with me for a moment, Sweetpea.” When the beer arrived, he took a long pull and put his arm around Reva. “No, I still have no idea why we are here. There was wine, toasting, and lots of hand shaking, but no business this morning at all.”

∞∞∞

The business came in the next days and weeks. The association was intensely interested in establishing firm guidelines on monetary interactions with the financial establishment of Grantville and the USE. Agreements were formulated, papers prepared, and guidelines hammered out. Still no one asked about the Upwind.

By December tenth, everything seemed ready. All that was needed was signatures. And then everything seemed to hit a brick wall. Official witnesses were unavailable, or someone was sick or it was some obscure Christmas season holiday. Something always seemed to come up.

On Saturday the thirteenth, Marlon came home early. It wasn’t even lunch time yet. He sat in the sitting room next to Reva. She had been shopping, and was going over some sort of list.

But Marlon didn’t really look at his wife. He needed to rant. “Reva, I’ve had it. I’ve been here all this time, finagling for signatures, and still haven’t managed to get anything done.”

Reva looked up during the harangue and took a sip of her wine.

Marlon didn’t seem to notice. He was talking to the room in general. “This is the first day since we got here that the sun is shining and the wind is calm. I’m going flying.” He started working down all the little buttons on his coat. As he unbuttoned, he walked toward the stairs. “If they make a decision, they can let me know, and we’ll sign some papers.”

He started up the stairs. “I’m going out to that meadow where we’re storing the equipment. You know the one. I’m going to fire up the Upwind, and take a look at the town.”

He turned at the top of the stairs. “Reva, aren’t you coming? I can’t imagine launching without you there to boss the ground crew.” Without waiting for her answer, he turned, shouting as he went. “If those gentlemen of means want something, I will be out with the balloon the rest of the day.”

Reva smiled as she laid down her list. She stood up, patted her hair into place, and hurried up the stairs after her fuming husband.

∞∞∞

Ever since the rescue by the Upwind, Ulrich had harbored a strong desire to continue to fly. He had become Marlon’s right-hand man in the weekend flights they were able to take before leaving Grantville.

So today he helped Marlon lay out all of the pieces of the flying machine with practiced care. With a suitable amount of grunting and heaving, the Upwind was set up in the center of the field, the envelope laid out and inflation begun. People started showing up from town, first a few, then in greater numbers.

Reva watched the crowds with the practiced eye of a ground crew supervisor. She finally saw what she was looking for, and snagged a young boy by the sleeve. “Would you like to help?”

The boy was between ten and twelve. His eyes were already the size of saucers, but when she spoke to him, they glistened with joy. “Yes, ma’am. I’m a good worker.”

Reva smiled. “I could tell. What is your name?”

The boy straightened his jacket. “I am Lukas.”

Reva spoke seriously, as if addressing an adult. “Okay, Lukas. I want you to get two or three friends, and keep people back from the area around the flying machine. Especially the part over there. That’s the burners, and flames will burst out of there hotter than the bakery. Can you do that?”

“I certainly can.” Lukas grinned, then ran off calling to his friends. After a moment of consultation, they fanned out in a circle around the set-up site. The six boys stood with their arms stretched out, and their faces toward the flying machine. That way, they wouldn’t miss a thing.

∞∞∞

When the burners were attached, Marlon pulled the levers for the first test. The crowd jumped back a little, but nobody was frightened enough to leave. There were murmurs when the nearly transparent flames shot into the air. The pressure fan engine chugged away, forcing air into the envelope.

Marlon looked up and smiled. “Ulrich, I think it’s time for you to get some more air time. Get yourself in that back seat. We’ll be going up in a few minutes.”

Ulrich hurried over to the gondola, and climbed into the back seat. Marlon grinned as he climbed into the front. No matter how often you went up, it never got old.

The checklist was complete. The envelope was full, and the gondola was bumping as if the Upwind was as excited as Ulrich was.

Marlon leaned over the edge of the gondola. “Reva! You ready to pop that bow line?”

Reva was standing near the mooring mast. “Just give me the word.”

“I’m going to fly once around the meadow, then I think I’ll head toward town, and fly back.” Marlon sat back down, then had a thought. “Do you want to go up with us and take a look at town?”

Reva laughed. “I don’t think so. I’ve been looking at town for two weeks, remember? Besides, who’s going to fish you out of the moat when you fall in?”

“Reva, those things are canals, and why should I fall in one anyway?” Marlon gave the burner a long pull, ramped the throttle up some, and signaled for Reva to release the bowline.

Kicking his rudders back and forth gently, he started toward the walls of Copenhagen. Before he was anywhere near them, he was already more than a thousand feet above the ground. Down below he saw a large crowd coming out of the gates. The conditions were almost perfect. There was very little wind, the day was bright and clear. It really was too good a day to be sweating over papers and books in some office.

The radio on the control board crackled. “Marlon, your business associates just showed up. They really want to talk to you.”

Marlon picked up the mike. “Well, hand them the radio.”

Reva’s voice showed signs of patient restraint. “No, they seem kind of excited. They want to talk to you face-to-face. You should probably come back for a bit.”

Marlon shook his head. I better go see what they want, he thought. He turned the airship and sailed over the meadow. Coming up against the wind and lining up the bow on the mast that Ulrich had planted in the center of the field, Marlon keyed the radio. “Reva, you ready?”

“Yeah, get that line a little closer, and I’ll hook you onto the anchor.”

Marlon moved the airship closer, then added some heat to the envelope and tilted the propellers slightly to force the airship down. He flew gently to earth.

∞∞∞

Reva watched the bow line bounce off the ground a couple of times, then grabbed it and shackled it to the anchor. Marlon moved the propellers to level and chopped the throttle. The Upwind was moored safely to the mast.

Lukas and his friends rushed forward. Reva raised her voice loud and commanding over the roar of the Upwind. “Wait! Wait! Move back!” She waved her arm over her head, and shouted again. “Get back behind the trailer. The engines are very hot.”

The boys turned their attention to the crowds. With shouts and gestures, the people nervously moved back. The gondola touched down. Marlon cut the engines and the propellers spun to a halt.

Reva let go of the bow rope, and heaved a huge sigh. “Okay, Lukas. You and your friends can come on up. Do you want to meet the pilot?”

The boys clustered around as Ulrich jumped out, and they helped hold the basket down. Marlon climbed out, instructing as he went. “Make sure you watch that basket, and don’t let anyone climb in there without me nearby.” Then he straightened his overalls and walked over to Reva. “So where are these overly busy bankers?”

Reva said, “First say hello to my ground crew. This is Lukas and his friends.”

Marlon solemnly shook hands all the way around. “Gentlemen, thank you for your assistance. You all deserve a ride, and we’ll see if we can’t give everyone a turn.”

The group of bankers walked up to him.

“I’m a little surprised to see you here. I’d gotten word that none of you were available today due to a slight illness.”

Cornelius Holgarssen was polite enough to look a little embarrassed. “Herr Pridmore, the truth is that we have been very eager to see your flying machine.” He turned to where the Upwind bobbed gently on the mooring mast. “I must say, it is both larger and smaller than we expected. Just exactly how does it work?”

Marlon fielded queries for the next fifteen minutes. Finally the questions and answers wound down a little, and Marlon grinned. “Okay, who wants a ride? We can take you two at a time, so whoever wants to go first go ahead and get into the back two seats.” Then he turned, and took his place in the front of the gondola.

Cornelius took charge. “Josef, why don’t you come with me. The rest of you figure out who’s brave enough to try this.” The two men climbed into the gondola.

Marlon made sure that his passengers were safely aboard, and waved to Reva. “Loose the line, Reva.”

As they sailed into the air, Cornelius leaned forward to speak to Marlon. “Herr Pridmore, I would dearly love to fly over to the east of here. See that grey tower between the two churches?” Cornelius pointed.

Marlon nodded, and swung the rudder around toward the target. “Is that another church?”

Cornelius smiled. “No. It’s Rosenborg Palace.”

∞∞∞

Marlon and the Upwind spent the rest of the afternoon flying. All of the bankers, many of the notables, and even Lukas and his friends managed to get a ride.

After two refuelings, Marlon called it a day. “Gentlemen, would you care to accompany me and my wife for some refreshment?” Marlon was more relaxed and comfortable than he had been for weeks.

When they were seated at an enormous table, the questions came fast. Young Josef Magnussen seemed to be the man with the most technical questions. “Herr Pridmore, we have some very specific concerns beginning with this. How much did this cost, and how long did it take to build?”

The men seemed fascinated with every detail. And when Marlon got to the part about acquiring cloth and materials, they were most intently interested. All in all, it was a greatly satisfying afternoon for Marlon.

∞∞∞

Monday morning, Marlon was elated. He was certain to be on the edge of finishing this business. Reva had gone shopping early in the morning, and he had to fuss with the ornate clothing with only the help of his valet, Gregers.

He was looking in the mirror when Gregers came into the suite. “Sir, there is an official envoy in the drawing room.”

Marlon turned, fussing with his lace collar. “What sort of envoy, Gregers?”

The young man cleared his throat, then said, “I think it is the herald from the palace.”

Marlon turned. “From the palace? Someone sent by King Christian?”

Gregers nodded, then stepped forward and straightened Marlon’s coat, brushed some lint off the shoulder, and smoothed the lace collar.

Marlon took a deep breath. “I wish Reva was here right now.” Then he put a smile on his face and went to the drawing room.

∞∞∞

“Good morning. I’m Marlon Pridmore. Can I help you, sir?”

The man standing near the window turned. He was younger than Marlon, his salt and pepper hair tastefully curled on his shoulders, expensively dressed, and had lace on his collar and wrists.

“Herr Pridmore, it is a pleasure to meet you. I am Niels Rasmussen, servant to His Majesty. We’ve heard many accounts of your activities on Saturday. His Majesty is very interested in your hobby. We were wondering if you would meet with him this morning.”

Marlon was still a little flustered by the thought of meeting the king, but quickly pulled himself together. “Sir, my time is yours.”

Rasmussen smiled. “Excellent. I have a carriage outside. Would you care to accompany me?”

“Oh, I have a gift for His Majesty. If you could be persuaded to wait for just a moment, I’ll fetch it from upstairs. Then we can go.”

∞∞∞

The ride to Rosenborg Palace was uneventful, and neither gentleman felt the need to indulge in small talk. The formal gardens were beautiful, even with the snow. Marlon followed Rasmussen through the echoing halls, with a small seed of nervousness sitting like a lead ball at the bottom of his stomach.

Then they were at a large double door guarded by two pikemen. Rasmussen walked up without looking at the guards, and opened the doors. Marlon followed quickly.

“Your Majesty, this is Herr Marlon Pridmore of the Grantville Bank. Herr Pridmore, His Majesty, King Christian.”

The king smiled and offered his hand. Marlon returned the smile and stepped forward, shaking the king’s hand. Then Christian turned toward the windows. “I think you know Cornelius by now.”

Marlon turned, and saw that Cornelius Holgarssen was also in the room. He nodded, then said, “Your Majesty, I would like to present you with a gift. This is a book from up-time about balloons and airships. Great effort was made to have the finest photographs with the most spectacular views available.”

When he received the book from Marlon’s hand, King Christian said, “Very impressive.” The king indicated a cluster of chairs nearby. “Shall we sit?” The three men settled into chairs. It was then that Marlon noticed the absence of the royal herald.

“Excellent idea, Your Majesty.” Minutes passed as the King, Cornelius, and Marlon paged through the book. Marlon explained various parts of the lighter-than-air society as it existed up-time.

Some time later, the king leaned back in his chair. “So! How was it that you have been flying in my city without inviting me?”

Marlon’s heart fluttered. “Your Majesty? I had not thought that my humble airship would be of great interest to someone who has his own air force.”

King Christian smiled. “Yes, but your airship is such an extraordinary thing. It must be very different as it proceeds almost regally through the sky.”

Cornelius said, “Herr Pridmore, I have reported everything that I knew about your airship to His Majesty, and he insisted on meeting you immediately.”

Marlon could tell that the king had wrung every last impression from the gentlemen banker. “Your Majesty, it’s a feeling unlike anything else in the world.”

Christian turned back to the book. “I looked up airships in my encyclopedia when I heard you were coming to Denmark. The things shown there were much larger, quite unlike your aircraft.”

Marlon nodded. “Yes indeed. Unlike the hydrogen filled types, the thermal airship was quite a new concept in my time. Such airships had only been in existence for perhaps ten years before we arrived here in Europe.”

Christian leaned back and stroked his beard. “I have heard of hot air balloons, but I had never imagined from the encyclopedia that they could be guided like this.”

Marlon warmed into the discussion of his favorite topic. “The clever part comes from having an engine, and a shape that is held rigid by air pressure inside. It is most important to have a power plant that is light enough to provide the energy needed. Of course, even heavier power plants can move lighter-than-air craft more easily than an airplane, because the lifting gases hold up more than their own weight. Using an envelope and lifting gases gives much greater capacity than just a normal heavier-than-air craft is capable of.”

The king also became more animated. “So an airship can move much more weight than aircraft for the same amount of engine.”

“Well, yes. Except that airships are generally slower than aircraft.”

“How much slower?” asked Christian.

“Well,” said Marlon, “that depends. It all revolves around the size of the airship and how much power the engines have.”

Cornelius had been silent until now. “About engines . . . is it possible to get more engines?”

Marlon felt he had found the reason he was in Copenhagen. “New engines from Grantville would be a real problem, because almost everything there is committed to one project or another. There are a few companies that are making new-built engines, but they are small and too under-powered for a large airship.”

Cornelius frowned, and the king looked somewhat disappointed, but Marlon continued before there were questions. “However, large new-built engines are not impossible. In fact there are several types that are possible to build here. For example several types of steam engines could be explored, and there is also a generator that can produce steam for very little weight.”

The king focused his piercing eyes on Marlon. “This is all very interesting, but what I really want right now is a commitment that you will take me flying in your airship at your earliest convenience.”

“Your Majesty, why not come out to the meadow with me right now?”

∞∞∞

The afternoon was very much like Marlon’s flight with the bankers on Saturday. But somehow, Marlon enjoyed it even more. Here he was in the air with someone close to his own age, and also an enthusiast of air travel. In this way Marlon Pridmore and King Christian IV were very much alike.

From the look on his face, the king was enraptured. He was leaning ever so slightly over the edge of the gondola, and looking down at Copenhagen. “Herr Pridmore, this is amazing. It is so slow and stately. And the silence is awe-inspiring. When I flew in my airplane, I was astounded. But it was noisy, and went so fast.”

He was silent for some time, and Marlon remembered again his first airship flight, and even his first time up in a hot air balloon. Some things just didn’t need words.

∞∞∞

The afternoon spent flying, landing, answering questions, and instructing King Christian in the subtleties of hot air had been very fulfilling.

Then Marlon noticed that one of Those Envelopes had been delivered. He opened the sealed and beribboned packet with trepidation. Was it possible that I offended someone?

The envelope contained a request for Marlon to meet with Cornelius and the other bankers tomorrow. “Gregers, I need you in here.”

His valet stepped into the office, and could tell that Herr Pridmore was nervous. “Yes, sir?”

Marlon looked up from the intimidating envelope. “Gregers, ask my wife to step in, please. I think I’ll take her out for lunch. Oh, and if anything else comes up, the only person I will be able to see would be King Christian. All others have to wait.

“Right away, sir.”

∞∞∞

Marlon drummed his fingers on the table. Reva hadn’t been home, of all things. So a servant went to find her and came back with her agreement to meet for lunch. She was usually so punctual. He never considered the possibility of having to wait forty-five minutes for her to arrive.

Then the door of the tavern opened, and through a flurry of wind and blown snow, Reva hurried in, carrying packages, and trailed by two servants carrying more. All were bundled in fur-lined cloaks, and all three had red noses.

“Reva, what’s all this? Where were you? You’ve never been this late.”

Reva smiled. “Maria, thank you so much for your help this morning. Would it be too much trouble for you to take my share of the packages home for me? Or would the two of you like to join us for lunch?”

Maria was already unloading packages from Reva’s arms. “We’ll take everything home, and start preparations. We only have a couple of weeks before Christmas, after all.”

Marlon sat down, a little flustered. He had never considered the possibility that Reva had other ideas of how to spend her time. The truth was, he had only really been thinking about bank business, and airships. What exactly has she been doing for the last couple of weeks? he wondered.

Reva settled herself at the table. “So, Swordfish. What’s so important?”

∞∞∞

Next morning, Marlon walked into the upper room of the Merchant Bankers of Copenhagen building. Reva had refused to come with him. When questioned, she was a little mysterious, and just told him not to get into trouble.

Marlon hadn’t met here with the bankers before. While it was unlike any other business office he had ever been in, something about the room just screamed Big Money. Unlike any large business meeting of his own times, there was no conference table. There were chairs and a string of side tables down one wall with a selection of delicacies. It’s much more like a cocktail party than any kind of serious business meeting, Marlon thought.

The group in the room was almost twice as large as the group Marlon had met with about the bank business, but all of the bankers who had flown last weekend were there.

Cornelius smiled when he saw Marlon. “Let’s talk business.”

The chairman led Marlon over to a seat, and gestured toward the food. “Herr Pridmore, the truth is that we have been very interested in your airship from the moment we heard about it last fall.”

Marlon nodded. Now he would find out why he had really been brought to Denmark.

Cornelius said, “We heard from a number of sources that you didn’t plan on building airships on any commercial basis. In fact, as we tried to find more out about you and your technology, we heard repeatedly that you didn’t want to start any kind of airship company. So we took this approach in kind of a roundabout way so that we would have the opportunity to present you with our proposal before you had the chance to refuse us out of hand. We know you have found it frustrating that we haven’t made a lot of progress on our agreements with your bank. While those agreements and proposals are very important to us, we have another matter to discuss. We know that the small airship was made for your amusement. We want to know, can you make them bigger?”

Marlon looked around. The other shoe had finally dropped. Why is everybody trying to get me into the airship business? Marlon could see, however, that these men wanted their airship and none of his bank business would go forward unless he gave it to them.

He settled down to answer questions, and to defend his position as a hobbyist and not as entrepreneur.

He noticed that the others had selected chairs nearby, and everyone in the room was listening. “Cornelius, I want to make it clear from the beginning that I’m not a miracle worker. Nor am I a superman. I can’t guarantee that everything will work as planned. I have no training in engineering, or aircraft design. Bigger ships are not easy, and they will cost a lot of money.”

Cornelius nodded. “Yes, that’s obvious. Everyone here knows that value costs money.”

“Comparing my airship to a large commercial airship is like a rowboat compared to a galleon. I don’t know very much about bigger ships. I could make some serious mistakes and people could die. That’s a lot for my conscience.”

Cornelius stroked his beard. “Herr Pridmore, you probably don’t realize it, but my partners and I have been researching airships and new modes of transportation for almost two years. After a disastrous attempt on our prototype airship, in which two men lost their lives, we decided we needed more expertise. Then you launched your airship, and it became apparent we needed you to make this enterprise successful.”

The young man, Josef Magnussen, stood, and began to lay out their proposal. “Herr Pridmore, we do not consider you to be a holy saint, or a hero of the Greeks. In any new endeavor, there are risks, not only of money, but of life and limb. This enterprise has been the same. In our business, ships are lost and people die. Nobody likes that, but business still goes on.”

Cornelius picked up the discussion again. “Among the powers of Europe, Denmark is by no means the largest, richest, or most powerful. There’s a lot of competition in trade. We want to get our cargoes to their destinations faster. Transporting cargo overland quickly would be the same as controlling a large share of the money.”

And then Cornelius sipped his wine and smiled. “His Majesty also wants to show the world that we can fly. He is very impressed with you, sir. He feels that you are just the man to help us get our cargoes to the buyer faster.”

Marlon pulled together what he thought was his strongest point to keep him out of the shipbuilding business. “What about railroads? They can go as fast or almost as fast as an airship, and can carry so much more cargo. And what about that Monster airplane?”

Cornelius smiled. “It will be at least five years and possibly as much as ten years before the railroads will go where we want. And the Monster airplane can only fly so far and carry so much.”

Josef took up the question. “With an airship, we will be able to move large cargoes. And development will take a year, perhaps less. We have already gathered many of the materials you have described. As you said, a medium large airship could have a useful cargo load of over twenty tons. That is about the same as five large freight wagons. And the transport times will be in hours and days. Much better than the weeks and months it takes now to move the same amount of freight.”

Marlon started to object, but Cornelius held up his hand. “As you said, mistakes will be made in this venture. People will die, both in the experimentation and in the building and flying of such a ship. People already have. Just as they died up-time. But the truth is that fewer mistakes will be made and fewer people will die if you were our advisor.”

Marlon’s mouth snapped shut at that. He knew the truth when he heard it. “But Herr Holgarssen, I’m not a qualified engineer for this sort of project, and I still have commitments to my employer.”

Cornelius stood. “Just know, Herr Pridmore. Our group is determined to continue in this venture with or without you. You have given us a new direction to pursue, and we are ready. If you do not help us, those lost lives may well end up on your conscience.”

Marlon stood also, and heaved a great sigh. But he already knew he would accept. He could not let anyone take the risks without his knowledge and experience. He said, “I can help, but much will have to be rediscovered here.”

Cornelius nodded. “Agreed. We have only one condition. You must stay and help supervise the building. For this, we offer your bank a share of the enterprise, but we really require your knowledge and help. You will be handsomely compensated. King Christian wants you close so he can personally consult with you.”

Marlon said, “I have to consider this. I also need to consult with my superiors and my family. An enterprise like this could take quite some time.”

Cornelius took Marlon by the arm, a friendly gesture. He strolled toward the door as he spoke. “Very good. That you are a cautious man is reassuring. How soon can we meet again?”

“About a week, that should be enough time to talk to everybody.”

There was a lot of murmuring, and Cornelius laughed. “So soon?” He turned and consulted in a low voice with others, then smiled again. “We will make it ten days.”

Copenhagen

Late December 1635

Marlon Pridmore had some apprehension about this first day of work. He had yet to meet the crew, and he didn’t relish the thought of walking into the middle of a project. Nevertheless, he walked into the shops with Cornelius Holgarsson, the head of the group of investors sponsoring the project. “Well, what do I need to know to get started?”

Cornelius grinned. “Let me show you around a little.” He took Marlon over to a small group of men. “Marlon, this is Rikard, the shipwright. He’s intensely interested in speaking to you about several key pieces of information.”

“That’s what I’m here for. Take your best shot, Herr Shipwright.”

Rikard began. “Herr Pridmore, we desperately need to know a few things to continue on with our project. The first and most important involves the actual lifting capacity of hydrogen gas. Encyclopedias and information that we’ve been able to access up till now mention the size of historic airships, their lifting capacity, and how much power they needed, but neglect to say how much the gas could lift by cubic volume. We have put together an estimate of the size of the airship we need, and have prepared frames for a hangar to enclose the construction, but we can’t make any final determinations because we literally do not know how big to build it.”

“Cornelius has shown me your plans, “Marlon said. “I’m impressed; your basic drawings are actually very good.” He walked over to a chalkboard and picked up a piece of chalk. Just like the training classes at the bank, he thought.

“The information you need is that one thousand cubic feet of hydrogen will lift approximately sixty-six pounds. The airship you prepared for is actually quite a bit larger than what I would have thought to try for a first airship, but my first rough estimate shows that the airship we are building needs to be about six hundred fifty feet long and around seventy feet in diameter. That means we need a hangar about seven hundred feet long and about ninety feet high inside.”

Rikard nodded. “I’m glad to hear it. We actually designed our prototype around the dimensions of the Graf Zeppelin, found in the encyclopedia. The dimensions you recommend are only about two thirds the size of our initial airship plans.”

“Yes, I’m very concerned about getting a hangar to work in. It seems to me that it might take quite a bit of time to get something large enough built.”

Cornelius looked at Rikard then laughed. “This is the information we needed. So we are building the hangar tomorrow. You need to come with us in the morning.”

∞∞∞

The next morning dawned crisp and cold There was no snow on the ground, but the clouds threatened more soon. The field was a hive of activity. There were more men and ox teams than Marlon expected.

Two lines of holes were dug parallel to each other on the field. Stacks of what appeared to be frameworks of wood and piles of spars were scattered along the lines of holes, along with huge piles of what looked like brush.

Rikard walked over and spoke to a large man holding a maul in his hand. After a moment Rikard shouted something to the crew, and held both fists above his head, thumbs pointing up. That was the signal, and shouts began echoing across the field. Large masses of men and animals took up ropes and began to heave. Slowly a flimsy-looking framework lifted into the sky.

“Cornelius, that doesn’t look very strong,” Marlon said. “It doesn’t even look strong enough to hold its own weight. Are you sure it can do what we need?”

Cornelius nodded. “We think so. It’s really not unlike an oversized version of the cattle barns you find all over the country. It is perhaps four times larger than anything that we would normally build, but once the arches are tied together, and the thatch is on, the structure will become very solid. The thing we were worried most about is that it’s so light that there’s a chance of it blowing away in a high wind. So we’ve used sunken anchors so that we can cable the structure to the ground.”

“Okay. I can see what you’re trying to do, the big arches will form the framework, and the brush pile will be the roof, but what are the smaller arches for?”

Cornelius responded, “Those arches will form the dormers. After the room is thatched, we will add windows. We must have some form of light inside the building, and a large building built of wood is not the best place for torches or fires.”

Copenhagen

Christmas 1635

King Christian demanded that the “flying machine expert” have an office near the palace. He wanted to be able to ask questions whenever he pleased. A contract for Marlon’s consultant work with the king of Denmark was drawn up, very similar in some ways to the patronage contracts that circulated among the artists and painters of the time.

Just before Christmas, the Pridmores moved to a townhouse much closer to the royal residence. Reva settled into preparing for the festive season.

The truth was, she had become a little bored with her role as lay-about rich lady. She really welcomed the opportunity to have a project to fill her time. Marlon had been busy from the day they left Grantville, so wasn’t available very often.

So she threw herself into celebrating Christmas. The season started with Advent, the fourth Sunday before Christmas day. And candles were really big.

By December 24th, she had the house decorated with wreaths and candles. Marlon was in his office in the front room, working on drawings for the airship all day. He had promised to quit in time for dinner. Just to be sure, Reva threatened Gregers with expulsion from the celebrations if he failed to bring Marlon back in time. She was confident that it would do the trick.

Just before the dinner hour, the door of the studio office opened, and Marlon strolled out. Gregers came behind him, and blew out a long sigh as he slipped into the kitchen.

Marlon stretched, and worked his way out of his doublet. “Reva? What was all the fuss? I’m trying to work out just how much horse power this steam engine will . . . ”

His words dribbled away as he looked around. Candles were burning everywhere in the room, and a tree stood in the corner, waiting for the small candles to be lit. Reva stood to one side with a plate of cookies in her hand, and a wreath on her head.

Marlon blinked like an owl suddenly wakened in the daytime. “What’s all this?”

“It’s Christmas Eve, Swordfish. Glaedelig Jul. I hope I said that right. I’ve been practicing all afternoon.”

Marlon still looked mystified, so Reva explained. “You’ve been so busy I didn’t want to disturb you, but now it’s time for the holiday. If you go back to the shop, you’re just keeping all your assistants away from their families. And they’re too polite to tell you. Now hang up that jacket, and go wash up. It’s time for Christmas.”

∞∞∞

With supper finished, and the evening drawing to a close, Marlon and Reva sat in what they thought of as their living room. The light was dimmer, and only a few candles were still burning. Marlon was sipping glogg, and Reva had some tea. It was very romantic.

Reva set her cup on the table and snuggled next to her husband. “Marlon, I’ve been thinking.”

If Marlon had been alert, this would have sent alarms rattling up and down his spine. But the fortified wine had him feeling very warm and mellow. He just put his arm around her and said, “Hmm?”

“What are your plans for the next six months to a year ? Just how long is this going to take?”

Marlon leaned back and stared at Reva for a moment. He hadn’t really looked at her for a couple of weeks. Just too much going on. Now he saw that she was happy and rosy-cheeked. “Well,” he said. “I’d have to say that we may be here at least a year. Maybe longer. Why? Are you in a hurry to leave?”

“No, not at all. In fact, I’ve got something I want you to think about for a while. You’re almost in your dodderage, and I’m no spring chicken. And what exactly do we have waiting for us back at Grantville? I’ve had all the holidays I can take watching my nieces and nephews get married. It would be different if we had children of our own, but you know all about that. Maybe it’s time for you to retire from the bank, and make this move to Denmark permanent.”

Marlon opened his mouth to protest, but Reva hurried on. “Now hear me out. I know that you were kind of pushing the idea around in your head of writing a will, and selling the farm to Bernard. It would give him something tangible to leave to Helga and Ulrich. All I’m saying, is that now may be just the time for that. You’re happy in your projects, and I have something fun just about to take off. Why don’t you think about that for a while?”

Marlon didn’t know what to say. This was all such a surprise.

Copenhagen

January 1636

When Marlon agreed to be a consultant for The Royal Airship Company of Denmark, he sent word to Coleman at the bank and Bernard at the farm. He needed Bernard to send all the magazines and manuals and technical specification books he had collected over the years. There were several boxes of them in the attic of the house.

Today, the middle of January, his supplies from home finally arrived. He had no scheduled meetings, so he busied himself with his office. He was there mostly to stay out of Reva’s way. Her boxes from home had also arrived, and she was busy unpacking and arranging everything just so.

One of Marlon’s boxes held things he had forgotten about for many years. Before leaving the army, he had packed up his “I Love Me” wall, and never thought about the certificates and plaques again. Now here they were.

Suddenly it felt intensely important to hang up all his framed stuff. Sending for a hammer and a few nails, he started. The wall was a military tradition of his younger years. He enjoyed putting his war certificates and memorabilia on the wall as kind of a reminder of what he’d been and where he wanted to go.

In the middle of the mess, in walked King Christian. “Ah, so now you are a decorator? What is so important that you must put holes in the walls yourself?”

“Well, your Majesty, this is a reminder of my military career in my former life.”

King Christian stepped close, examining all the pictures. “And this photograph, what is it?”

Marlon glanced over, but he knew that one very well. “That’s a picture of my first jump.”

His Majesty raised his eyebrows. “Jump?”

Marlon was finding out that consulting with the king was a job that he would be called upon to do at the drop of a hat. “Yes. When I was in the army, my unit was specially trained to parachute out of aircraft.”

Christian continued his investigation. “And this photograph?”

“That is me getting my ‘tab.’ It’s an award given in recognition of the completion of an extremely difficult course of training.”

Christian returned to the first photograph. “How hard is this jumping with a parachute?”

“Did you hear about that woman using a parachute in Magdeburg? She’s making parachutes now for the air force. Her name is Tracy Kubiak.”

King Christian continued to examine the photographs, and Marlon could tell that the wheels were turning. The monarch was already thinking about his own parachute adventure.

Marlon stepped to another box and pulled out a paperback manual. “This is the instruction for a job we called a rigger. This job included repairing and packing the parachute.”

Reaching farther into the box, Marlon pulled out a collection of straps and buckles. “This is the harness that I wore when I was jumping. We called it a Flintstone because it was an old-style harness that dated back almost twenty years before I went to jump school. This harness was used for almost forty years because it was absolutely reliable.”

The discussion continued, with the king becoming more and more excited, and with Marlon reminiscing about his experiences in the military. As the afternoon waned, King Christian finally ran out of questions. “Marlon, I think it time to dress for dinner. You are attending this evening, aren’t you?”

Marlon tried to hide his shudder. State dinners were always a little stultified and boring. “Of course, Your Majesty. My wife informs me that I have a new doublet just for the occasion.”

“Excellent.” Christian picked up the harness and the manual, and headed for the door. But before he left, he turned. “And I think it important to contact that Kubiak woman. She should come out some time this spring, and tell us everything she knows about this parachute. Arrange it, won’t you?”

And with that, the monarch swept from the office.

Copenhagen

April 1636

Marlon hurried into his townhouse, shouting. “Reva! Sweet-pea! Where is that woman when I need her?”

He continued to shout and carry on until Gregers came into the salon. “Herr Pridmore, what is the problem? You are looking for your wife?”

“Yes, Gregers. I thought that was obvious. Is she here? I need to talk to her.”

“Sir, she isn’t here at the moment, but I think I know where to find her. Do you want me to send her a message?”

“No, I want her here as soon as possible. Oh, fine. Send her a message, and have her find me in my workshop. I need her quickly.”

Twenty minutes later, Reva walked into the workshop and looked around. For a moment, she didn’t spot her husband, but then saw him near the blackboard, pacing. He didn’t seem to be mortally wounded even though the message from Gregers contained very strong demands. “Marlon, for heaven’s sake. What’s wrong with you? I told you this morning I’d be in town all day. Why did you scare Gregers so badly? I thought for sure you had had a heart attack or something. What’s the problem?”

Marlon ran to her, took her hands in his and led her to some chairs nearby. “Reva, I desperately need somebody I can trust to do me an enormous favor.”

“There are lots of people you can trust, aren’t there?”

Marlon let out a huge sigh. “The only person I think I can really trust with this is you. I really need somebody to go to Venice and get me some glass.”

“This is about glass? You need me to go and get glass? I don’t know anything about the technical stuff, you know that. Why can’t you send Rikard? Or that other young man? Gunnar?”

Marlon struggled, and got his excitement under control. “I need to send you because you have a way of getting what you want. I don’t want to say you intimidate people, but it is awful hard to deny you anything when you have your bulldozer act going.”

Reva’s brow was low and clouded, and any husband in the vicinity should recognize that the weather was not good for flying. But Marlon ignored his trepidations and continued quickly. “Reva, you can fly out of Amsterdam to Grantville and then from Grantville to Venice. There’s a multi-engine airplane on that route now. I don’t need a lot of glass, just some carefully made to all of my specifications. It’s for gauges and watch glasses, that sort of thing. They should be easiest made by the experts on the island Murano.”

Reva began to object. “I don’t know, Marlon. I don’t know anything about your engines and such. You know that the technical stuff just goes in one ear and out the other. Besides, I have obligations . . . ”

Marlon interrupted before she could give him too many reasons. He knew how to convince her. “The other thing is this would give you a chance to go to Grantville and talk to your friend, you know the one you’ve been trying to correspond with? That Home Ec teacher you keep telling me about. I know you have something going on, but this would work for both of us.”

Reva was silent for at least thirty seconds while she thought over his last bit of argument. “I only need to get to Venice with your drawings, and wait for them to make the gauges? I’d be gone less than a month?”

“Yes, I can almost guarantee it. And you get a nice visit in Grantville as well.”

“Okay, Marlon. You start making arrangements, and I’ll see what I can pack.”

Marlon didn’t say any more, but gave his wife a big hug and kiss.

∞∞∞

Reva had been gone for five days, and Marlon was a wreck. He just couldn’t concentrate. He wasn’t used to pottering around the house without her nearby. They had worked together at the bank for many years, and then gone home together at night. There were times that he traveled and left her at home, especially when he was in the National Guard as a younger man. But for Marlon, this was the first time he had ever stayed home and waited for Reva to return.

He paced up and down the living room, and he finally became aware of the servants muttering in the other room. He realized that they wanted to come in and clean, and he was disrupting their routine. He let out a huge sigh, and retreated to his bedroom. It had already been made up, and he could be alone here for some time.

It would be at least three more weeks before she came back. Marlon finally pulled himself together and gathered what he might need. He was going out just to clear his head. Today, he decided, was the end of moping. It was time to do something fun. “Gregers, have the boys get the carriage ready. I want to go to the hangar and oversee progress on the engines.”

Unbeknownst to Reva, Marlon had brought his favorite shirt to Copenhagen. It actually dated from the late 1970s. After all this time, it was threadbare and faded, but he still loved it. Over the years, Reva had attempted to throw it away, give it away, and burn it in the trash bin. But every time, Marlon always rescued it and smuggled it back into the house.

So today, he pulled the bright yellow T-shirt from underneath his office desk where he kept it hidden. He pulled the shirt over his head, then turned and looked in the reflection of the glass window on the opposite wall. There he stood in his oldest jeans with holes in the knees, work boots with the leather worn off one of the steel toes, and the bright yellow T shirt with a smiley face.

Now he hauled a long drovers coat out. Reva despised the thing, but she wasn’t here to express an opinion. Whenever Marlon wore it, he felt like a Texas Ranger. No doubt he looked like an idiot with the long coat over his yellow smiley shirt, but today he didn’t care.

He and Gregers left the house, and stepped into the waiting carriage. As they made their way to the outskirts of Copenhagen, Marlon could feel his spirits lift. The hangar workspace was always an enormous amount of fun. Today was a day for working and getting dirty. He headed for the small door on the front of the hangar.

The hangar was always alive with activity, and today was no exception. Many people were busy, beams were being swayed into the air, hammers were beating on metal.

The engines had finally been redesigned. Marlon and Rikard had settled on six V-12, bash-valve steam engines. Mostly because they were not internal combustion, the engines themselves didn’t have to contain explosions every time the fuel was ignited. For those reasons, they could be designed as very light, not adding much to the weight of the airship.

Today, six separate crews had been handed the plans, and work was beginning on the casting of the engines. They were not set up for mass factory production, and all agreed that it would be faster if all six engines were assembled simultaneously.

Marlon walked through the shop. It had been a couple of weeks since he’d been in here. He came into the casting shop, and got his first surprise. We’re not in Kansas any more, he thought. We’re in the seventeenth century.

In the twentieth century, machines were usually not seen at all, or if they were, they were very utilitarian, like diesels and heavy road equipment, or they were slick and plastic, like desktop computers and automobiles.

The seventeenth century had a very different esthetic and he realized that he was about to be treated to a whole world of Baroque and Rococo decorations.

“Herr Shipwright, just where will this casting be on the engine?” Marlon couldn’t place the shape or use of the wooden form, because it was full to overflowing with suns and moons and stars. Absurdly, Marlon was suddenly reminded of some wallpaper his grandmother had installed in the “nursery” of her house, where all the children played.

Rikard and the foreman turned, a little surprised. “Ah, Herr Pridmore. I’m glad you’re here today. I was going to find time to come to your studio and show you some of the drawings, but here you are.”

“I guess this will save us both some time, Rikard. Now, tell me, what will this be? I’m having trouble recognizing it.”

“This is the casing for the engine, Herr Pridmore. The shape and size of it is exactly to your specifications, yes? But the foreman and I felt that for something so important as Engine Number One, it needed to look like something that belonged on a royal airship, not something from some backwoods blacksmith shop. So we got the woodcarver to decorate it. What do you think?”

Rather than the plain, functional surface Marlon had included in his drawings, the artisans replaced utilitarian with Baroque. In Marlon’s opinion, it verged on the edge of downright gaudy.

“Have you decorated all the engines like this?” Marlon was still trying to get the image of decoration and his understanding of steam engines melded in his thoughts. It was not an easy fit.

“All but number six, Herr Pridmore. The artist we had depended on is down with a fever, and hasn’t gotten done. Is there a problem?” Rikard looked confused.

“Oh, no, no. Of course not, Rikard. I just wasn’t aware that you planned to decorate the engines. I have no objection. Go right ahead.”

∞∞∞

Marlon and Gregers spent the rest of the afternoon moving from one engine crew to another, watching progress as the crews prepared the sand for casting, and the decorated forms.

In the course of the day, Marlon took off his coat, much to the amusement of the workmen at the hangar. They hadn’t ever seen something like the smiley shirt. They had heard about blue jeans, but it was the first time they had gotten a close look.

When he laid the drover’s coat aside, the first man to see him stopped working, and actually dropped his hammer to the wooden floor. Silence pooled around Marlon like a thick syrup. Many of the down-timers stood with their mouths hanging open as if he had walked into the hangar totally nude. In fact, nudity would not have been as much a shock to the work crew as the smiling face peering at them from Marlon’s gut.

By the end of the work day, Marlon was feeling considerably better. Only a little longer, and Reva would be home.

Copenhagen

May 1636

It was a big day for Marlon. He stood at the dock, straightening his lace collar. Today was the day Reva was to arrive from Amsterdam. He had gotten a note from the radio operator last night that the ship had been sighted, and that Reva was aboard.

The wind was fresh and cool, and the sun was warm. The tide was coming in, and the fishing fleet was returning from a long day’s work. Then the ship with Dutch flags rounded the protected edge of the bay. Marlon lifted his binoculars, and focused them on the deck of the ship.

His heart fluttered as he spotted Reva. She was wrapped in a cloak and scarf against the cold North Sea winds, but she was his Sweetpea. She stood on the deck, peering at the crowds on the pier. Marlon waved his arm over his head and jumped up a little. After a moment, he could see her wave.

After Reva debarked Marlon wrapped her in a huge bear hug. Eventually, he loosened his hold and let her get her breath. “So how was your international jaunt? What did the glassmakers say about the glasses and gauges?”

“Slow down a little, Swordfish. I just got here. Don’t worry about your glass order. They said they could have it here by the end of August unless there were unseen difficulties.”

“That’s good. I don’t think anyone but you could have done it, Sweetpea.”

“Well, I’m not sure about that, but it was nice to get to Grantville again. Twila Davis happened to be in town, and lent me a book I’ve been wanting to read, so I’m doubly lucky. It was sure nice to have lunch with her. I haven’t seen her for so long, since she took that job in Magdeburg.”

As she was talking, Marlon sent Gregers for her luggage, and escorted her to the carriage. He knew that half the fun of travel for Reva was telling him about everything when she got home.

She caught him up on all the gossip and family news, progress that Bernard had made in building a brandy still on the home lot, and then her adventures in Venice.

Reva was finally winding down, and noticed that they were not in the city, but the carriage was bumping along a country road. “Marlon, where are we going? I thought we were going back to the townhouse, and I’d be able to get out of these clothes, and have a hot bath.”

“I know you’re tired, Sweetpea, but today, the engine crews wanted me to come to the hangar for a brief ceremony, and I thought you wouldn’t mind. It won’t take long, and you can see that I’m not dressed for mechanical work. It’s just that they’ve finished the six engines, and they want to show them off a little before installing them in the engine compartment on the airship.”

Reva smiled. “Well, I guess I can wait on the bath another little while. I don’t know why engines would be exciting, but it’ll just be fun spending time with you again after this trip.”

When they got to the hangar, a whole line of men from various work crews were lined up on both sides of the open doors, and sunlight was streaming into the brush-thatched building. Marlon and Reva stepped down from the carriage, and were met by Rikard and Cornelius.

They were ceremoniously escorted into the work area. Each engine had been cast and assembled separately, and so each work area was a showcase for their engine. And as each was meticulously decorated, instead of numbers, each engine was named for it’s decoration.

What would have been engine number one was carefully fabricated with stars, the moon, and the sun. It was now called the Universe.

Engine number five had been redone with a fleet of Viking ships complete with dragon heads and shields down the sides of each vessel. This one was renamed the Fury of the Northland.

In similar fashion, engine number four had been decorated with scenes of shepherds, shepherdesses, and sheep in their pastures. The crew now referred to it as Pastoral.

Engine number three had the skyline of Copenhagen carved in three-quarters relief. It was named the Copenhagen, but everyone referred to it simply as the City.

Engine number two was covered with eagles. There were heraldic eagles, natural eagles, even a bald eagle. The name, of course, was the Eagles.

But engine number six was the strangest one of all. He hadn’t seen six yet, because the crews had kept it covered when he visited the hangar. Today when he saw it, Marlon stared, then burst out laughing.

His secret was out. Reva’s mouth fell open at the sight of Engine number six. There it stood in all of it’s glory, covered with not one, but many smiling faces, all idiotically beaming inside a ring of fire. The official name of the engine was announced as Argus, meaning eyes. It’s true that it was covered with eyes, but everyone in the shop and on the flight crews called it Smiley.

Reva looked at Marlon and said, “Where would they get the idiotic idea for a smiley face?”

Guiltily, Marlon took Reva’s elbow, and turned her toward the carriage. “I’m sure you’re exhausted, Sweetpea. Let’s get you home and into that hot bath.”

The look she gave him in return made Marlon just a bit nervous.