1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 01

1636: The Devil’s Opera


Eric Flint and David Carrico


December 1635

Music directly imitates the passions or states of the soul . . . when one listens to music that imitates a certain passion, he becomes imbued with the same passion . . .


Chapter 1

          Simon came out to the river at least once a week, usually in the pre-dawn light, and walked the bank of the Elbe looking for anything he might scavenge and use or sell. Today the sun was just barely visible over the eastern bank of the river, and the dawn light had not yet dropped down to the shadowed eddy under the willow tree. There was something large floating in the water.

         He stared down at the floating corpse. It wasn’t the first one he’d ever seen in his young life. It wasn’t even the first one he’d seen in the river. But it was the first one he’d seen that he might be able to get something from, if he could only get to it. He edged down to where the water lapped on the bank where he stood, and for a moment crouched as if he was going to reach out and draw the body ashore. That moment passed, though, for as the light brightened he saw that there was no way he could reach the corpse without wading out into the water, which he was loath to do since he couldn’t swim.

The boy glanced around. There were no stout sticks nearby, so he had nothing at hand that he could maybe use to draw the body closer. He frowned. There might not be much in the man’s pockets, but anything would be more than he had.

His head jerked up at the sound of other voices coming nearer. No help for it now. He’d have to hope the men coming this way would give him something.

“Hai! This way. There’s a deader in the water by the tree.”

A moment later two of the local fisherman came bustling up. “Och, so there is,” the older of the two said. “Third one this year. Well, in you go, Fritz.”

“Me?” the younger man replied. “Make him do it.” He pointed at Simon, then ducked as the older man made to cuff his ear.

“And a right fool I’d be to send a lad with only one working arm out into even still water.”

The young man whined, “Why is it always me that has to go in the water after the deaders?”

“For I am your father, and I say so,” the older man replied. “Now get in there afore I knock you in.”

The younger man muttered, but he kicked off his shoes and stepped into the water, hissing as the chill moved up his legs. The boy shivered in sympathy as he watched, glad it wasn’t him getting wet in the winter breeze. Three strides had the corpse within reach, and Fritz drew it to the bank by one arm.

“Fresh one, this,” the older man grunted as he rifled the dead man’s pockets with practiced hands. “Ah, here’s something.” He lifted up something and showed his son. “One of them new clasp knives like Old Barnabas bought.” The boy watched with envy as the blade was folded out and then back again. It disappeared into the older man’s coat. “Help me turn him over, Fritz.”

They flipped the corpse onto its back. The dawn light fell on the face of the corpse, and men and boy stepped back at the sight of the bruises and cuts. “Scheisse,” the old fisherman said. “This one’s no drowning.” He shook himself and returning to rifling the clothing, feeling for pockets. “No money, not even a Halle pfennig. His coat’s worn worse than yours. His shoes . . . aye, they might do. Off with them now, and run them to your ma and tell her to set them near the fire to dry.”

Simon almost laughed to see the younger man struggling with the corpse to get the shoes off. “Ach, you worthless toad,” the older man shoved the young one out of the way and had the shoes off in a moment. “Now get with you, and I’d best not beat you back to the boat.”

He turned back to the boy. “Now, you, lad.” He looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Simon, isn’t it? Seen you about before, I have. Go find a watchman, one of these newfangled Polizei, and tell him that Johann the fisher has found a deader in the river. Say nothing to him about the knife and shoes, and tonight there will be a bowl of fish soup for you, and maybe a bit of bread to go with it. Fair enough?”

Simon didn’t think it was fair, but he gave a nod anyway, knowing that it was the best he would get. The older man returned the nod, and Simon turned to scramble back up the bank to find a city watchman.