1635: THE DREESON INCIDENT – Snippet 05
Frankfurt am Main
Ron wiggled his legs around. There wasn't a lot of leg room on the barge that the crew was slowly poling up the Main River.
Sandrart, sitting next to him, had a dreamy expression on his face. Joachim had been mentally counting his future money all the way down the Rhine.
In other words, Rohan had turned out to be a reasonable man. A reasonable man who was interested in art. A reasonable man who was interested in art and had money. The ambitious young painter's dream patron, perhaps.
"When are we going to get there?" Gerry asked from the narrow single seat at the back of the barge.
Ron twisted around. "Haven't you outgrown that by now?"
"Nah. It was the first thing I learned to say in German. And Italian. Well, the second, I guess. The first thing was, 'What's for supper?'"
"A couple more hours," the crew captain answered.
Gerry subsided back into silence.
"I don't suppose we have reservations," Jones said ironically. Down-time travel did not lend itself to advance reservations.
"Rohan's secretary recommended a place. The host's name is de Ron and the inn's called Zum Weissen Schwan."
Sandrart shook his head. "Don't stay at an inn. After you were so cooperative about letting me go over to meet with the duke, the least I can do is extend the hospitality of my father's house. We've got plenty of room."
"Vengeance," Ouvrard said. "We have this wonderful chance to avenge the failure of Ducos' plot to assassinate the pope in Rome. It has fallen to us, into our laps like a ripe plum. We did nothing to seek it out. The Stone brothers. Two of the three culprits are right here! To think that Antoine Delerue predicted that we were unlikely to encounter them again."
"Antoine is scarcely a prophet. Certainly not an infallible one. Count your lucky stars that they're staying at Sandrart's house," Brillard said. "And keep your face out of public view. Maybe they wouldn't recognize any of us, and wouldn't remember having ever seen us talking to Michel anywhere in Italy. But then again, one of them might. Talk about good luck. If the Sandrart son hadn't invited them, they'd be right here at the Swan and we'd be huddling in the sleeping chambers all day to avoid them."
"Another heaven-sent, predestined, foreordained, clearly God-given opportunity wasted because of Michel's…" Ouvrard shut up before Guillaume could tell him to.
"Working within the limitations that our leader has placed upon us is an exercise in humility," Locquifier said. He didn't look at his hands. These past two days, he had chewed his own fingernails down to the quick in frustration.
"At least tell Michel about it. Why did he and Antoine have to go as far away as Scotland? What can they possibly be trying to accomplish in Scotland, of all places?"
"Robert." Locquifier paused. "I will send another letter to him, explaining what has happened. After that, all we can do is wait for his further directions."
There were musicians at one end of the room. A sort of string quartet. Lots of candles in sconces reflecting off the window panes, of which there were also a lot. Downtown Frankfurt mostly looked sort of Gothic in its architecture, but it was clear that Sandrart's father had remodeled this house not too long ago. Modernized it.
There was a buffet table at the other end of the room. A big one, loaded with more food than Ron had seen in one place since the last reception he'd attended at the Barberini mansion. Off in a corner by himself, behind the table, Gerry was eating a plate of fruit and cheese and keeping one eye on Artemisia's little girl, who was standing right by the table, eating everything sweet that she could identify by the sugar crystals sprinkled on the top. That was okay.
There were polished blue and white tiles under foot. They had to be marble. Marble was a rock, when you came right down to it, and these were as hard as rocks. Joachim Sandrart's mother would start the dancing up in a few minutes, he expected, and he'd be expected to punish his feet on them. She'd be dancing with the Bürgermeister. He'd be dancing with whatever girl they told him to dance with. He'd gone to a depressing number of fancy parties since that first one in Venice, and was getting, in his own opinion, depressingly good at doing what he was supposed to do at them. Bourgeois, his dad would say.
Overhead – Ron took another surreptitious glance upward. Woodcarvings and murals. The murals were a bit amateurish. He wondered it Sandrart had painted them on the ceiling in his own father's house. Maybe for practice, when he was a teenager?
Simon was sitting down, talking to a middle aged man garbed in what Ron had come to think of as the Calvinist preacher's uniform. A Geneva gown, they called it. Black pleats and a white collar. He thanked his lucky stars that Simon still had diplomatic credentials, in case the other guy took offense at some of his theological opinions.
Joachim was – he looked toward the big fireplace with its ornamental mantel – over there. Ron had met the man he was talking to, earlier in the evening. He was a banker, another Calvinist refugee from somewhere, named Philipp Milkau. The girl next to Artemisia was his daughter Johanna. Milkau's only daughter and sole heiress. Fräulein Walking-pots-of-money. The girl that Sandrart was going to marry, most likely. She was exactly the kind of wife that a promising young artist with ambitions to enter the diplomatic service needed. Paying for a reception like this a couple of times every week wouldn't even start to drain the exchequer she would bring along as a dowry.
She seemed nice enough. Pleasant looking. Good manners. Couldn't be more than about sixteen. Of course, Joachim hadn't ever met her until this week, but his relatives and her father had reached a sort of preliminary arrangement. Nothing legal, like a betrothal. An understanding that was contingent on the main parties to the agreement not taking a dislike to each other on first sight and developing an even greater loathing on longer personal acquaintance.
But they seemed to be getting along fine. She had her hand on Joachim's arm. He was sort of sniffing at her hair. Which was a good thing, Ron supposed. Sandrart said that his own family could only afford to put on a party like this once a month or so.
The Stone brothers left the city the next day. Mathurin Brillard and Robert Ouvrard made one last effort to persuade Guillaume Locquifier to allow them to go in pursuit. But Locquifier was adamant.
Michel has given us no such instructions!
It was enough to drive a man insane. Michel Ducos was far distant – they had no idea where, precisely – so how could his "instructions" possibly cover any eventuality that might develop?
Brillard and Ouvrard did not share Locquifier's adulation of Michel Ducos. Both men thought Ducos' grasp on reality was shaky, in fact. Still, they were not prepared to wage an outright rebellion. True, Ducos' "authority" was mostly a matter of prestige, nothing formal. Insofar as the organization of Huguenot zealots had an officially recognized leader, it was Antoine Delerue and not Ducos. But Ducos' force of personality was such that any dispute with him almost invariably became ferocious.
As much as Mathurin and Robert would have enjoyed getting their revenge on the Stone brothers, they didn't feel strongly enough about the issue to risk getting into a brawl with Ducos. So, off the brothers went. Not touched, not even pursued.
On the Reichsstrasse between Frankfurt and Hanau
"Philipp Milkau is being blackmailed," said Artemisia Gentileschi.
The part of the Reichsstrasse they were following this morning was headed generally uphill, a steeper grade than a person would think unless he looked back to see what he'd already climbed, so they were going slowly to spare the horses. That gave them plenty of time to talk, but the sentence that she'd just dropped on him wasn't Artemisia's ordinary horse-riding conversation.
"He is?" Ron hoped that he didn't sound too dumb.
"By some Huguenot extremist group."
Ron groaned inwardly. The last time that he'd met a Huguenot extremist, it had been at the hearing for Galileo. He didn't really want to meet any more of them.
"Why's he being blackmailed?" If the man turned out to be a pedophile or something, he definitely didn't want to get involved.
"Something involving real estate. Buying an estate called Stockau. It's over near Ingolstadt, somewhere. In Pfalz-Neuburg."
"Didn't that belong to the abominable Wolfgang Wilhelm? Before he got himself killed in the Essen War last summer?"
"That's the one. If you can think of a triangle between Augsburg, Munich, and Augsburg, it's in there."
"The south side of the river?"
Artemisia nodded. "It's noble land. So it's tax exempt, for all practical purposes. Plus being a way for Milkau to lever his family up into the nobility, if he played his cards right. But somewhere along the way, he bribed the wrong person, or didn't bribe the right person, or… something."
"Like he maybe told Wolfgang Wilhelm something that amounted to treason to get him to approve the sale?"
"You are young to be so suspicious, my friend Ron. The problem, I think, is that the purchase would have made him landsässig to an ally of Bavaria. It's a bit moot, now that General Banér has occupied Pfalz-Neuburg south of the Danube for Gustav Adolf and it's in the USE, or soon will be. But in any case, whatever the specifics, during the negotiations it was enemy territory. If the Frankfurt council finds out what he did, or was prepared to do, he will be tossed out of the city, bank and all. These…"
"'Fanatics' is probably the right word."
"Fanatics. Yes. Zeloti. These zealots are using their knowledge to force him to finance their projects. Whatever their projects are. He is not sure. But he believes that he is probably not alone. That they are extorting money from other prominent members of the Calvinist diaspora."
"And I need to know this… why?"
"Your father is important. And rich. Therefore, you have ties to influential men in the State of Thuringia-Franconia, and through them into the highest circles of the USE. He thought that you might be able to bring the problem to the attention of the appropriate persons. Discreetly, of course. Naming no names, since you are a friend of his future son-in-law. But letting someone know of the existence of the zealots. That they have established themselves in Frankfurt."
Ron had never thought of himself as having ties into the highest circles of the USE. But if Frank could get married in the Sistine Chapel… The only important man he knew was Mr. Piazza. That was because Mr. Piazza used to be the high school principal, so everybody in Grantville knew him, pretty much. But he did know him, and Piazza was as thick as thieves with Mike Stearns. Whom he'd also actually met. Once. In a bunch of other people at the Thuringen Gardens. Everybody knew that Francisco Nasi worked for Stearns.
"I'll see what I can do."