Up-time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice

Set in the Ring of Fire universe, this is the story of Mary Russo, freshly graduated from Grantville high school. She has been hired by one of the wealthiest families of the seventeenth century, and now finds herself in a world very different from the West Virginia she once knew—a gilded world of intrigue, love and death.

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In the Year of our Lord 1633, Mary Margret Russo graduates from Grantville High School at the top of her class.  The beautiful and strong willed up-timer, as the people from the future are called, is mysteriously hired by a branch of the wealthiest family in the world. Mary finds herself far from her family, living in a beautiful castle in the Inn Valley of Tyrol.  There she meets Counts, Countesses, the handsome and distant Count Johann Franz, and works hard as a teacher and consultant among the one-percenters of the day.

But all is not what it seems in this gilded world, where religion, undercurrents of witchcraft, and vast sums of money create high-stakes contests, and where treachery and death await the unwary or the unprepared.

Can a resolute and intelligent girl find love, happiness, and purpose in this world where she is the ultimate outsider, out of her time, alone, and in dangers she cannot comprehend?

Using archetypes, occasional dialog, and story beats from Jane Austen, Up-time Pride and Down-time Prejudice tells the story of Mary Russo, Count Johann Franz Fugger, and Mary’s journey of maturation, knowledge, and love in this 1632 adventure.

January, 1634. Wurzberg, State of Thuringia and Franconia.

“Russo! Hey, Mary Russo! Mary? You in there?” The door to the storage room in the basement of the Wurzberg Rathaus banged open. It was followed by a blast of icy cold January air, which made the candle waver in the near darkness.

“Yeah, I’m in here, Albrecht. Close the door! I was just starting to thaw out.” Mary Russo straightened up from her small standing desk in the corner of the storeroom and wiped her eyes. She didn’t want Albrecht to see that she had been crying. She snuffled and blew her nose into a handkerchief and cleared her throat. “I think I’m getting a cold,” she said, sniffing. “I’ve only been here a week and I’m already coming down with something…”

Albrecht was a down-timer and a co-worker of Mary’s. He was an okay guy, as far as Mary knew, she had only met him a few days ago, when she first arrived from Grantville. It would be embarrassing to be found crying in the cold and dark basement of what was basically the city hall for the town of Wurzberg. She was the new kid here, nineteen years old, just out of basic training, graduated early from high school, and dropped into what her superiors must have thought would be an easy job. Sort out property records. Simple enough. And property records by themselves were nothing to cry about. She was crying about why they were so messed up. The town of Wurzburg, with a population of maybe fifteen thousand people, had in the last four years, murdered around 900 of its citizens for witchcraft. Beheaded some of them, then burned the bodies. Burned many of them alive.

She was reading the records of a family. They had an eight-year-old girl, and an eleven year old boy. They had confessed, after torture and examination, to having sex with a demon. Eight and eleven. The word ‘examination’ had chilled her to her bones. Their parents watched them burn after they were ‘mercifully’ beheaded, and then they were burned themselves. Alive. Next to the still hot ashes of their children. She found the accounts in a wooden box marked as trash, behind some crates, where it was tossed, forgotten. There were many more files. Hundreds more. She leaned against the little desk, one of those stand-up desks like Ebenezer Scrooge had his employee stand at all day in the cold and the dark, with the records scattered around her. Stacks. Piles. File after file of torture, death, and burnings at the stake. Children. Women, rich people, poor people, actors, tinkers, tradesmen, burghers, the daughter of the Burgermeister, priests, a girl who was described as the “prettiest girl in town”, old women, young men, it didn’t end. File after file after file. She held the notes of the torturers in her hands, the list of questions, the list of answers. The signatures. All routine. Neatly written. Stamped. Initialed. Countersigned. She couldn’t stop sobbing as she read.

Many records had disappeared when Swedish troops took the city, stolen away by the retreating Catholic troops and clergy. But some were left, hidden or forgotten. And it was Mary’s job to find and sort through them. Figure out who was going to have to pay the taxes. Because that’s what a government did. Figure out the taxes. And until they figured out who owned what, they couldn’t figure out who should pay the taxes. And they needed the taxes. She thought she joined the military, like nearly her entire graduating class, and was going to fight for freedom. Justice. The American Way. Instead she was in a dark and cold basement, reading accounts that broke her heart, to see who owned property. For taxation.

It would have been far easier to shoot someone.

Albrecht was waiting patiently for her in the door. “Did you find some good information in here? They took a lot when they left, burned files too.”

Mary pointed at the files stacked around her, and the empty wooden crate on the floor. “I think they left this crate, or forgot to burn it. It’s marked with an ‘M’, for mull I think. Trash. So crap got stacked on it, and it got buried down here. Maybe that’s why people ignored it.”

“What are the files?” He picked up one of them and started to leaf through it. They were remarkably thin.

“Witch trials.” She was managing to hold it together pretty well, she thought, after what she had been reading all morning. “Copies, anyway.” She sniffed again and rubbed her eyes. There was little light in the room other than the candle. Illumination managed to leak in through a small, grubby window that was high on the wall. Since she was in the basement, she could see the feet of people walking by the window during the day.

Albrecht nodded enthusiastically. “That’s great! Almost all of these were missing. Captain will be happy you found them. We have been shorthanded here, and it’s nice to have someone to dig through some of the areas we just haven’t had time to do.”

“Glad I can help. So, what did you come down here for?”

He laughed, holding the file. “Almost forgot. Captain wants to see you. He’s up at the castle in his office. I will box these up and take them upstairs.”

She grabbed the file she had been reading. The name on it was ‘Hoenegg’. “I will take this one to show Mr. — err, Captain Eckerlin.” She folded the rag paper bundle and stuffed it into her back pack, the same one she had been carrying since before the Ring of Fire, when all she was concerned about was what courses she was going to take in High School, and how soon it would be until she got her driver’s license. It seemed like an eternity ago.

Before she went across the bridge and up the hill to the castle, or more accurately Festung Marienberg, she took a moment to walk over to the town square, where the Marienkapelle was located. In front of that church was the place where they burned the witches. It was only a dark spot on the dirty ground now. Today was not a market day, but Mary knew that even on a market day, nobody would set up their stalls in that spot. The first thing the up-timers did when they came in, after the Swedish Army occupied the town, was to tear down the pyre. It was a semi-permanent installation, like a fire pit and gallows combined. She looked at the dirty spot in front of the large Catholic church and said a quiet prayer for the Hoenegg family.

She turned away and made her way across the old stone bridge over the Main River, and up the hill to the administrative offices located in the Marienberg Fortress. It was a brisk ten-minute walk. The cold air helped to clear her head, and her tear-clogged sinuses. The fortress was taken by Gustav Adolphus’ troops when they swept through Franconia in 1631, shortly after the Ring of Fire brought Mary and the town of Grantville back to this time. Gustav’s troops were not kind to the fortress, and it still showed in the area around the building, and in the condition of the interior. It had been thoroughly plundered, which was about standard for armies in the here and now. Some rooms were burned, scorch marks showing on the outside where the smoke had poured out. There were a couple of wings of the buildings that were still gutted and open to the weather. The SoTF military liaison offices occupied only a small area of the building, and she headed for the second-floor offices where Captain Eckerlin lived.

She trotted up and went into the front room of the offices. There were a half dozen people in the outer office, and it was at least somewhat warmer with the heat generated from the fireplace and the bodies. She took off her up-time winter ski jacket and stocking cap and hung them up on a coat tree. She checked her “uniform,” which in her case was a up-time army shirt from her dad, with “Russo” on it, jeans over long underwear, and her own up-time boots. She checked in with the down-time receptionist, and she was ushered in to see Captain Eckerlin.

She marched in carrying her back pack, stopped in front of the Captain’s desk, and did a standard, “Private Russo reporting for duty,” followed by a salute. It sort of felt odd. She had been in the army for less than two months, and Lowery Eckerlin had been her neighbor from down the street. She had known him since she was probably five years old, and as a kid had eaten more than a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at his kitchen table in the summer, with his wife and his daughter Katie. Which added to the whole odd feeling as she stood in front of his desk, saluting.

He stood up and smiled broadly at her. He looked a lot thinner than the last time she saw him back in Grantville, his downtime uniform shirt hung loosely on him. He also looked a lot older than the middle-aged dad she remembered. He still wore the pants of his old police uniform from up-time, as well as his service Glock on his belt. He had been a policeman in Fairmont before the Ring of Fire, and he was basically the same sort of thing here. In charge of security. “At ease, Mary.” He came around the desk and opened his arms wide. “Come here and give me a hug, kid. How’s your Mom doing?”

Mary smiled and hugged him back. “Thanks for asking, sir. She is doing pretty well. Dad is working on some drugs with the Stones, and she hasn’t got any worse. So we are okay with that.”

“That’s great. Good to hear. Your Dad doing okay too?” He went to his office door and closed it with a smile at the receptionist outside. His office was small, with one wall full of windows and a fireplace against another wall, a blaze burning warmly. There was little ornamentation, other than a battered up-time file cabinet with a sturdy lock welded to it, his desk which looked like a salvaged table that was half charred from fire, and a couple of mismatched chairs. There were some framed certificates on the wall, one of which was a service commendation from his days on the Fairmont police, the other was his Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. Along with the pictures of his family, there was one thick file on his desk, tied with red tape, and stamped ‘SECRET’.

Mary took all of this in quickly and answered him. “He’s doing great, he likes teaching and he feels he is making a big difference. Everyone else is about the same. How about you? Er- you, sir?”

“Everyone is good, Mary. Thanks for asking. Busy, you know how it goes.” He pushed one of the chairs in front of his desk closer to it. “Sit down, I’ve something to show you. And forget about the ‘Captain’, you can call me Lowrey.”

“Well, Capt- er rather, Mr. Ecke – err, gah! This is hard. And weird. Can I call you just Mr. Eckerlin like I used to when I was a kid?”

He smiled. “Sure. You know the old joke, call me anything you like, just don’t call me late for dinner!”

Mary laughed, Mr. Eckerlin always had the worst ‘dad jokes’ in the neighborhood. “I can work with that!”

He sat at his desk, and his smile faded to a serious expression. “I didn’t call you here for a social visit Mary.” He touched the file in front of him. “I want to—” there was a sharp knock on the door and it opened a crack. Mary heard the receptionist.

“Captain, there are some Ram delegates here to see you, they say it’s important.”

He sighed. “Okay, Fraulein Fitz. Tell them I will be done in a moment. Give them some beer –or something stronger. I will be out in a moment.”

“They specifically said to remind you of your open-door policy.” The woman raised an eyebrow at the Captain.

∞∞∞

“My door is always open, just not when someone is in here. Give them my apologies and I will be out in a moment.” His face looked as if he might have regretted saying that his door was ‘always open’ sometime in the past. Germans could be very literal sometimes when it came to that sort of thing. Especially disciples of Constatin Ableidinger. Mary smiled sympathetically. He focused back on Mary, puffing his cheeks as he blew out his breath. “Looks like we won’t have much time to chat. I need to talk to you for a bit.”

“Okay, Mr. Eckerlin. You got me.”

“If I said that a person is a Fugger, what would you say to that?”

Mary laughed. “I would guess that you were setting up one of your terrible dad-jokes.”

He laughed too. “Yeah, some of those were pretty bad, weren’t they? But, not this time. It’s actually a name.” He turned the file around so that the big ‘SECRET’ stamp faced her.

“Seriously?” This had to be a joke.

“A very important one.” He looked dead serious. “One of the most important. You see, the Fugger—that’s what they are called, – not Fugger’s‘ want to hire a genuine up-timer.”

“Okay…”

“And, after a lot of consultations, they have requested you.”

Mary’s eyes went very round. “M-Me? But why would these Fugger,” she sniggered a little to herself at the name, “want to hire someone like me? And who the heck are the Fugger, no ‘s’ at the end??”

Eckerlin leaned back in his office chair and smiled. “Good questions. First of all, they are rich. Very rich. Arguably the richest family in the world. Think Bill Gates, or Sam Walton rich, and you get the idea. Remember them?” Mary nodded. “Only in this time, they are richer than the governments.” He pushed the thick file a little closer. “It’s all in here.”

Mary purposely ignored the folder on the desk. “Okay, so they are rich. Lots of down-timers are rich. If they want a trained chimpanzee up-timer in their court, then they can just go to Grantville and hire one. Heck, Captain, one of the biggest losers in town got paid to go to Moscow.”

Mr. Eckerlin agreed. “The Fugger family at one time were financing the Spanish Hapsburgs and the Kingdom of Spain. At the same time. They financed the throne of the Holy Roman Empire for the Hapsburgs. Heck, Mary, they basically bought the throne for the Hapsburgs. They own silver mines, gold mines, they even own holdings in the Americas.” He leaned forward and gave the file a little nudge towards her, and she caught herself looking down at it. She looked back to face him. He was smiling. “It says in this briefing somewhere that the old man Fugger was the richest person that ever lived, or ever will live.”

Mary leaned a little closer to the file. “Wow. You said they were financing the Hapsburgs? Do they still?”

“Not all by themselves. Like any good corporation, they diversified. But they are a major banking family. As the family grew, the assets and wealth spread out among three basic branches of the family. This branch,” he nudged the file a little closer, “is one of the three. Based in Tyrol, near Innsbruck. Have you heard of Innsbruck? They had the winter Olympics there one year, way back uptime in the sixties, I think. Supposed to be beautiful country. Anyway, the Fugger basically bought themselves dukedoms there for a stable long term income. Silver mines there don’t produce quite like they used to.”

Mary pushed an errant strand of her straight black hair behind her ear and furrowed her brow. “If these people have so much money, why are you asking me? I mean, I assume they are connected at the very top, right?” Mr. Eckerlin nodded and leaned back in his chair. “So a request like this would come down from the very top?”

“They asked for some recommendations through back channels. Our intelligence folks got involved, and your name came up. They wanted someone who was female, and could be a teacher. We think you are right for the job.”

She sat back into her chair. “Wow,” her brow furrowed again. “I just got here.” She thought about the dark basement with witch-burning files and frowned. “Not that I’m saying yes, but what would these people want me to do? You said teacher?”

“Yup. It looks like a teacher and consultant. Teaching is one part of the official job description. A hired member of the staff.” He paused, and chewed his lip, thinking. “We hope that you do teach. We hope you teach these kids correctly, because they are all going to have a major influence on the future.”

She nodded at him. She knew the ‘hearts and minds’ teams here in Franconia had a major impact, in more ways than one, in easing the transition to a more democratic local and regional government, as well as opening up the area to the idea of freedom of religion. And helped to stop the witch burnings. “That makes sense. But what I don’t get is why we would want to do this. Grantville, and the Swedes. I mean, they – the Fugger – are the enemy, aren’t they?”

Mr. Eckerlin leaned back in his chair again. He smiled and nodded slightly to give her encouragement. “Where have the troop movements been this fall? Where have people been going?”

“Well, a lot of guys have gone north. I got a friend in TACRAIL that’s up there, along the border with Poland. And there are some with Wallenstein too. But still north. With Bavaria still messed up, and the Duke Bernhardt hunkered down south of here, I was thinking that I was going to do a lot of paperwork. Not much action, excepting a Ram Rebellion or two.”

Mr. Eckerlin nodded ruefully. “It appears that most of the action is going to be with the north. Poland, maybe more. I dunno, it’s way above my pay grade. This is all off the record, you understand.”

“I understand.” She pointed at the big red ‘SECRET’ stamp on the cover of the two inch thick file. “But what about my Mom? There are some things I need to do once I get out of the Army. I mean, I don’t regret enlisting, everyone did it, and my parents agreed it was the right thing to do, and it pays okay, but I need to take care of my Mom. How long will this take?”

“They are looking for a two-year commitment.” Then he leaned forward, with his dead serious expression again. “And you also understand that you will be expected to write a lot of letters home. Detailed letters. Occasionally encoded letters, depending on the content.”

“A spy?” She felt her heart skip a beat or two. She didn’t know if it was because she was frightened, or excited.

“Well, technically you would still be in the army.” He shrugged slightly.

“I see.” She swallowed, her mouth was a bit dry.

He pushed the file all the way towards her, to the edge of the old scorched table. Mary saw concern and kindness in his eyes. “I knew you since you were in diapers, Mary. I can’t order you to take this job. There are some dangers. That’s the world we live in now. But you should think of your mother. It’s one of the reasons I pushed for you. You’ll be still drawing your army pay, and the Fugger will be covering your room and board, clothing, travel expenses, and a very nice salary – and I mean a very, very nice salary that should take care of your mom for a long time. I mean, they are willing to pay a lot of money for this position, it’s all in the file.”

She paused and looked up at what had been, before the Ring of Fire, simply “Mr. Eckerlin”, her down the street neighbor when she was a kid. Now, he was a tired looking man, handling things far beyond what he had ever thought he would. Thinner than she remembered him from summers in Grantville. Making decisions that would echo down the centuries. Maybe she could too, somehow, with this job. That was an intriguing thought. Plus, her mother and her whole family needed the money; that was true. But– “Is it because I’m Catholic that they are looking at me? One thing I’ve learned with this assignment is what religion you are counts for a whole heck of a lot when dealing with down-timers. I mean, one of the reasons they sent me here to Wurzburg, is because I’m Catholic. I assume these folks are Catholic too?”

“You would be correct. With a hotline to the pope. And part of the deal is that they will protect you from the Inquisition.”

“The – Inquisition!? Holy crap Mr. Eckerlin! I thought that was only in Spain.”

“No, in Bavaria too. And this is on the border of Bavaria and what we used to call Austria. But don’t sweat the Inquisition thing, they are not nearly as powerful as they used to be, nothing to worry about. It’s all in the briefing.”

She gave him a sideways glance. “I s’pose I should make a joke here about nobody expecting the Spanish Inquisition, but that’s usually your department, the bad jokes.” They both smiled for a moment.

“Well, this time it’s no joke. They have it in the contract, and a lot of lawyers have already looked at it.”

∞∞∞

Mary shook her head and thought about the box of files she found. “I guess there’s nothing funny about those guys at all. The Inquisition. The witch trials here in Wurzburg were bad enough. With the Inquisition, when the accused is found to be a witch,, and they always are, any money, land, or business they keep. Self sustaining system. We have a lot of people in Venice, Vienna, and Rome, and all over the place and they don’t bother us, do they?”

“No, they don’t. But it’s one of the things our people were concerned about, so we negotiated it up front. Lots of lawyers, of which Germany has an excess, I’m learning.” He rubbed his forehead. “And there will be a month or so of training before you go. We will give you a lot of background on the family, and some espionage training for encoding and decoding documents. Nothing with too much skullduggery, mostly communication and procedures training. It isn’t like you are going to be an assassin or anything, you are going to teach a bunch of kids, and adults, and let us know if anything interesting happens.” He paused, then tapped the thick bundle in front of her. “You really need to read the files, Mary.”

She hesitated for a moment, and thought of her Mom, who really needed the money. And if these Fugger guys were for real, and worth that much, then maybe she could take care of her mom the way she needed to be taken care of. And if she really thought about it, sitting in a cold basement looking through tragic tax records was brutal, and at the same time as boring as anything. Really boring. Finally, she reached for the file.

“One more question.”

“Shoot, Mary.”

“Mountains, right? You think I could take my skis?”

Grantville Late April, 1634

“Three days isn’t enough time to catch up, Mary. This whole thing is happening way too fast.” Addie Russo was a frail woman, but direct, so her statement was just that. A statement of fact, tinged with regret, trying not in induce guilt in her daughter, only pass along her frustration. The two women, mother and daughter, stood in the tiny kitchen in the Russos’ three-bedroom ranch style house. “Your father isn’t going to be able to see you before you leave. He’s at the hospital in Magdeburg teaching this week, and he won’t be home until Sunday at the earliest. Can’t you stay so that he can see you, at least?”

“No, Mom. They want me there as soon as possible, so I’m flying out in the morning on the Monster. A seat opened up. I thought I was going to have a few more days, but they said ASAP, so ASAP it is. And the sooner I get there, the sooner I will start to get paid. I will be there before lunch, if the weather is good.”

“I’ve been so worried about you since you enlisted in the army. I was worried that you might be shot, or captured….”

“…Mom, we have been over this before. I was stationed about as far from any action as you could get. Frank Jackson had to let us girls enlist, but he didn’t have to put us any place where we might get hurt. The duty in Wurzburg wasn’t what you could call exciting. But the money was okay, and it all came here like I planned.”

Addie poured herself some hot water for tea, and one for her daughter. As she got the tea caddy out of the cabinet, she lost her balance slightly and clutched at the countertop. Mary saw it, and ignored it. She knew her mother wouldn’t want to make a fuss, so Mary kept quiet.

Addie turned back to Mary, and began to fix the tea. Mary could see that she was holding back her emotions. Addie chatted nervously. “Dear Lord, these down-timers like the most gaudy flower arrangements we can come up with. And the colors! Never knew that Baroque was so ugly sometimes. It’s wild some the stuff they like. Worse than the 1960s with all of the bold and bright stuff. And what we can get for arrangements now is pricing most folks out of the market. Trouble is, there aren’t enough flowers, and we are starting to get into making silk and paper ones. Origami too. The louder the better.”

Mary stood up from the kitchen table, took the teapot from her mother’s hands and set it aside. They hugged for a time. “Mom, all the money I make is coming here, you should be able to hire someone to come in and look after you a couple of days a week, and if you need to visit doctors, there should be no problems. I’m doing this for you and Dad, you know that, don’t you?”

They stood and hugged in the tiny bright kitchen. Finally, her mother broke the embrace, turned to the sink, grabbed one of the dishtowels hanging nearby, and wiped her eyes and then her hands in quick succession. She finally turned back to face Mary. “Are you sure this is what you want to do? Fly away to the middle of Austria and play nanny?”

“Well, first of all it isn’t Austria. At least not yet. It’s Tyrol, controlled by Claudia de Medici. It’s her kingdom, or dukedom, or some such thing. She’s the regent, her son is technically the ruler. But she is in charge.” Mary took both of her mother’s hands in hers. “Mom. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I’m not even twenty. I didn’t know up-time and I don’t know down-time. But, what I do know is that whatever it is I choose to do will be harder than what it would have been back home. Nobody- nothing is equal, things are all out of kilter and cheated to those with the positions. Maybe that’s why I’m going there, to see how it’s supposed to work with the folks who run things in this world. The muckety- mucks. You always said it wasn’t what you knew, but who you knew, didn’t you?”

“They don’t even have plumbing.”

“Mom. Seriously. They didn’t in Wurzburg either. And I’m taking cheat sheets. Plumbing is one that always gets asked about. One of the Nasi spy-clan gave me a batch of them from the library, including some stuff on accounting, the Federal Reserve System and a bunch of others. All in a folio. Also some other books, and some things for decoding messages and such. Most of it will have to come overland, though, I need to keep it light for the airplane. I can’t take much luggage.”

“Wear something nice on the plane, and maybe someday we can come and visit you.”

“I will. I don’t like skirts, haven’t worn one in years, don’t want to wear one now. Besides, who knows how far I will have to ride, or walk or whatever, before I get there?”

Her mother sat down at the table, and started to stir her tea. She finally smiled a little. “Will you really be living in a castle?”

Mary nodded, sitting next to her. “Yes, that’s what they say. Tratzberg Castle, about 15 miles out of Innsbruck on the Inn River.”


The Inn Valley, Tratzberg Castle the same day

Friedrich Stadelmeier strode across the courtyard of Schloss Tratzberg with his usual purpose; erect of posture, steady of gaze, confident in his command, and ever so slightly favoring his right knee, the result of a battle injury incurred twenty-five years ago. The retired Bavarian soldier was on his way to see his boss. His boss was one of the richest men in the world, and officially known as Georg Fugger, Count of Kirchberg and Weissenhorn. A small title for a very powerful man. Friedrich had worked for men with far longer titles. The nobility tended titles like precious flowers in a garden, with each new title acting as a badge in the accumulation of power, lands and prestige. Mostly prestige. There was a wise saying in the military world, where he had spent most of his career, which said: The longer the list of titles of a noble, the smaller the penis of said noble. It wasn’t true all the time, but for the most part it held up with a high degree of accuracy. In his experience. Which was substantial. The Count had only one title, which the family had effectively acquired more as a convenience and investment than anything else.

∞∞∞

Friedrich was in charge of security at Schloss Tratzberg, as well as occasionally responsible for other things that required physical intervention at the behest of the family in the area around Schwaz. Some of those things were completely legitimate and above board, some of them not so much. Those distinctions made little difference to the sturdy soldier, as he made his way up to the second floor working chambers of the Count.

But today in his capacity as director of security, he was concerned. Deeply. The Count was bringing an up-timer into the Schloss, on purpose, to act as a teacher, and to work closely with the family.

It was blindly obvious this person was a spy. There was no way around it. A spy. He had seen the file on the girl. She was young, certainly, but that mattered little. He had commanded and fought and killed soldiers barely out of their teens, those he killed were trying very hard to kill him at the time. Youth could be very deadly, as they had no concept of the permanence of death.

He communicated with other members of the family about this matter. Members of other security teams, in other locations. The consensus was universal. The girl was obviously a spy, and not to be trusted. All of his counterparts throughout the Fugger network felt this was the wrong move, and exposed the family unnecessarily to potential loss. The resistance to the up-timers was at times surprisingly vehement. He had registered his disapproval to the Count on numerous occasions, and he would continue to voice it. He had a job to do, and that was to protect the family and the family’s assets. It would not be compromised on his watch. There were times the nobility needed to be protected from their own folly, and this was one of those times, as far as he was concerned.

Friedrich reached the door of the Count’s chambers. He paused a moment, and checked his doublet, and made sure he had no dung on his boots. He knocked on the door and entered. He found the Count where he usually was, behind his work table surrounded by piles of paper and correspondence. His private secretary was not in the office today, having gone on ahead to Innsbruck. The Count and the Countess were both going to meetings there and were leaving in the morning. The offices were rather Spartan for a man in his position. While elegant, and well appointed, they did not bleed ostentatiousness like some personal offices Friedrich had seen in his career. There was the main table, and a series of work tables and bookcases behind the Count that housed ledgers and bound reports. His was a working office, not unlike a command center for a military campaign. It was designed for information and work, not to impress visitors. The Count didn’t care much about impressing people, he cared about money. The room was all about money.

“Come in, Friedrich. I see you got my note?” The Count was a small man, nearly bald on top with a band of still dark hair around the sides. He had a beak like nose and gold wire spectacles perched on the end of it. He had on a black doublet and pants, and a simple white shirt. The Count searched on his desk for a paper. “Where is my list for you, Friedrich? Ah yes, here it is.” He held up a small piece of paper that had only a couple of notes on it. “Don’t just stand there, sit down. I want to talk for a moment.”

Friedrich was immediately suspicious. He usually had short and business-like meetings with the Count, or even his secretary. Something was up… He pulled up one of the side chairs in front of the Count’s desk and sat down, his blade clunking awkwardly to his side. He squirmed and settled into the chair. It was lower to the ground that it should be.

“Are we prepared for Innsbruck, Friedrich?”

“Yes, Your Grace. We have the usual preparations. First sweep teams left today, and other teams will precede the carriage by one hour and fifteen minute intervals. There are six mounted with the carriage, along with the usual compliment of footmen. Baggage left today for the castle in Innsbruck. Attendants will be in the following carriage, and the sweep team will be trailing by five to ten minutes. We expect no issues, things have been quiet in the valley.”

“Very good.” He picked up a quill and made a line through one of the items on his list. “And the stonemason from Vienna? You will be meeting him tomorrow about the southwest corner?”

“Yes, Your Grace, but I would rather be with you in Innsbruck.”

“You are not needed there, we will be fine. My cousins are providing lodging and security, you would only be in the way and upset their people, double checking everything. This is supposed to be a friendly meeting, and I want some of them coming to the summer ball this year, and not hiding in Augsburg or Munich.”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

“So you will meet the stonemason on the questions I have about the strength of the foundation at that corner? Strength of the castle walls is your purview. It’s one of the things our security depends on. You have my list of questions?”

“Yes, Your Grace.” The Count was very thorough. Maddeningly so, sometimes. Friedrich watched as he drew another line through his list.

“Very good. Now, the next thing I want to talk about is our up-time person.”

Friedrich cleared his throat. “Your Grace. I must once again protest this hiring. We are bringing a spy into the Castle. I cannot watch her around the clock, sir. Nor can our staff. We will try, but she cannot be trusted…”

The count held up his hand for silence. “Things move quickly, Friedrich. She is already hired. Contracts signed. Bank notes prepared. She will be here in two or three weeks, we will only be in Innsbruck for two or three days at most. I have put in a request for her to get here as soon as she can. She will be flying in, and the plane will land on the Achensee. Apparently the plane is booked a couple of weeks out. Details will be sent by our contacts in Grantville.”

“Your Grace, I have spoken with several of my counterparts across our network, and everyone, to the last man, feel this is a bad idea.” Friedrich knew he was pushing it a little with the Count, but if he was unable to convince him that he should not hire the girl, he would at least make enough noise to let the Count know that it was against his opinion. Friedrich didn’t often feel a need to cover his ass on anything, he was usually far too thorough. But he felt he needed to make this point.

“It’s decided, Friedrich. She is staying. She has a two year contract, for which I am paying a lot of money, Friedrich. And when a Fugger says it’s a lot of money, you know it’s a lot of money. I have received criticism from other parts of the family for this, as I am sure you know.”

“Your Grace, you should listen to your counterparts. We don’t know anything…”

“I know you think I’m making the goat a gardener here, Friedrich. But….” The Count had a very high forehead, and his black eyebrows could elevate an astonishing amount. He was demonstrating that now. He started to read off a list, this time from memory. “First. She is Catholic, Second, she is well educated, likely has more education than anyone either you or I know. Third, and I know this is a concern of yours, she served in the military, but it seems many of the up-time women do after they finish their education. I am not concerned, nor is anyone who is familiar with the up-timers. Four, she comes with very high recommendations. The highest. There are other items. She is even quite pretty as I understand, nearly as tall as you, and is of Northern Italian ancestry. Moreover, I cannot bring in a steel expert. Or a mining expert. Or a finance expert. None of those skills are available at any price from an up-timer. And I must appease those in the family that are against any up-time contact. Some Fugger believe in demons quite truly. Friedrich, I have vetted her through every avenue I have at our disposal. You have seen the reports.”

“Your Grace…”

“We know she is a spy, Friedrich.” The Count sighed a little. “I would frankly be astounded if she didn’t report about us.”

“With all due respect, the servants in this Castle are the sons and daughters, the grandsons and daughters of the same families that took care of your wife’s family. Three or four generations of families have been in service here, stretching back to when the Emperor was resident here at Tratzberg, and they can be trusted to give their lives, if called to. This up-time girl is a break from tradition that is substantial.”

“I have made my decision, and I note your disagreement.” The Count leaned back in his chair and took off his glasses. He looked at Friedrich directly. And said nothing. Friedrich grew uncomfortable with the pause.

Friedrich cleared his throat. “Your Grace. May I be dismissed?”

The Count steepled his fingers. “No.”

“Your Grace?”

The count picked up another pile of paper, this one tied with orange ribbon. Friedrich felt a bit off balance, not certain what angle the Count was pursuing with this discussion. Friedrich had made his arguments, stated his objections for the record. He had been overruled. Typically the Count simply got on with it, once a decision was made. But this was different. The Count continued. “These are personnel files, Friedrich. Yours. You’ve been with the family for seventeen years now, and have always looked after our interests. I trust you, often times with my life, like my trip to Innsbruck tomorrow. I trust you with the lives of the other members of this family who reside here, and there are quite a few. More are coming to meet this up-timer to take classes from her, to learn from her. I understand the perceived risk from this girl. And there is a risk. If this girl were to be bribed, or coerced, she could do great damage to the family. If she has an agenda, to spy or to steal our intelligence, she could put our information at great risk. I understand your aversion to these things. However, none of these things will change your mission to protect the family.”

The Count put tremendous emphasis on the last part. Friedrich hesitated only a second, then replied with the only answer available to him. “Your Grace. I understand. It will not matter. I will protect the family, even though the up-timer is in our midst.” He swallowed, there was simply no other answer. “If this is the risk you must take, then I will work with it. It is not my place to question you.”

The Count took a moment, and looked into Friedrich’s eyes. The Count had dark brown eyes, almost to the point of black, and a piercing stare over his gold wire glasses. “And you are to be commended.” The Count suddenly stood and began to pace. “There is a shift occurring in politics, money, religion, everything. Everything that is important to us has been touched by this Ring of Fire event. And the key to everything is the up-timers. They will have massive influence for the next four hundred years. They have massive influence now. One of the things I must do, my top priority, is to make sure this family survives. Even if that means doing things in spite of itself.” He made his way to the window of his office, and gazed out into the courtyard through the four foot thick castle wall. He turned back to Friedrich. “You must be vigilant; you may try her honesty, and her faithfulness to our family.”

Friedrich had stood as the count started pacing, and now faced the Count. “Yes, Your Grace.”

The Count turned back from the window and looked at his security chief. “New times, new challenges.” He then nodded to Friedrich. “We are finished.” Friedrich tuned and bowed, and then he left.

As he walked down the hall to the stairs, he scratched the short white hair on his head. He kept it short because it was more comfortable in a hot helmet, and the hell with fashion. The Count was clearly taking heat from the family over the up-timer. For some reasons that the old soldier didn’t fathom, the Fugger had been late to the game, a trait not common in their history. Those who had adapted up-time methods of warfare and weaponry had been succeeding. Military tactics and strategy were changing. He was no longer an active soldier, but he kept in touch. Some of what he heard, things like napalm, ships that moved without sails, rifles that could fire a mile, and reconnaissance from the air were frightening and fascinating. Even Friedrich could tell that the Fugger were falling behind. He didn’t know what was happening in Augsburg and around the family with regard to up-timers, but someone had.

As he came into the courtyard of the castle, he saw the future. There were six young women, all of them countess of one sort or another. Most were single, a couple of them married, one already a widow. They saw him as a group and smiled. He had known many of them as children.

“Hello, Friedrich!” Sybilla Fugger hailed him. She was the most beautiful of the group, and the most prickly. Security for her was often a challenge, as she was impulsive and headstrong. Only his best and most patient men were assigned to her. Special handling for that one, all the time. He paused and bowed from the waist at the group of countesses.

“Countess Sybilla, Countess Maria Juliana.” He nodded the others. “Countesses.” As always, Maria Juliana had her young daughter with her, and seeing the fierce soldier, the toddler buried her head in her mother’s skirts. Maria Juliana’s hands immediately began to comfort the child. Friedrich knew he was scary looking, with his facial scars, his short white hair, piercing blue eyes, and soldierly demeanor. The scars were accumulated in honest soldiering, and he was not ashamed of them. But he knew he occasionally frightened small children. Which he thought an occasional advantage.

As he passed by the elegant group of girls, he thought of an up-timer in their midst. While he figured the up-time girl was going to be a spy, he felt a little bit sorry for her. That was a formidable group.