1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 02

Chapter 2

          Otto Gericke looked out the small diamond shaped panes in his office window at the sprawl of the exurb of Magdeburg, what some had taken to calling Greater Magdeburg. When Gustavus Adolphus had chosen Magdeburg to become the capitol of his new continental realm, what had been a city of perhaps half a square mile within its fortified walls had quickly mushroomed into a metropolis that, if it wasn’t in the same league as Paris or London as far as size, bid fair to grow into that league in the not-too-distant-future. And as the up-timers put it, it was Otto’s baby . . . or his headache, depending on which up-timer you talked to. He was mayor of Greater Magdeburg, appointed so by Gustavus Adolphus, who had then scurried off to war without giving him much more instruction than “Clean up this mess, and build me a capitol to be proud of.” Certainly there was no provision for a city council for Greater Magdeburg to share the work, or for an election of a replacement. Which meant that everything of any consequence, and most items of little consequence, ended up on Otto’s desk. He had started mentally labeling days as “baby” or “headache”, and when he had shared that thought with up-timers like Jere Haygood, all they had done was laugh.

          Looking at his clock, Otto decided that he’d best get back to work. He had just settled back into his chair when the door to his office opened and an elderly man was ushered in by his secretary.

“Thank you, Albrecht,” Otto said. “See to it that we are not disturbed, if you would.” The secretary nodded and closed the door as he stepped out.

Otto stepped around his desk and embraced the man in turn. “Papa Jacob. It is good to see you.” He smiled. “Even if you did catch me somewhat dishabille.” He indicated his jacket on the coat tree and his rolled up shirt sleeves.

Jacob Alemann, Otto’s father-in-law, stumped over to a chair obviously prepared for him, sat down and lifted his foot onto the waiting stool. He leaned back with a sigh, holding his cane with loose fingers.

“I see the gout still troubles you,” Otto commented as he walked to a sideboard and busied himself with a wine decanter. “Have you not read what the Grantville doctors are saying about gout?”

“I have, and what is worse, my wife has. And I am, with reluctance, willing to moderate my eating, but I will not give up my daily regimen of wine. After all, it was Saint Paul who said, ‘Take a little wine for thy stomach’s sake,’ and who am I to disregard the instruction of an apostle and saint?”

Otto returned to offer a glass of wine to the older man. “With all due respect, Jacob, I somehow doubt that the good saint had in mind the quantities of wine that you drink.”

Alemann chuckled, then took a sip of the wine. His eyebrows climbed his forehead, and he looked at the glass with respect. “Where did you get Hungarian wine around here?”

The destruction of the war so far had caused devastation in much of the farmlands of the central Germanies. The wineries in particular had been hit hard. Not much had been produced for several years, and the quality of what had been bottled was noticeably lacking.

“Wallenstein, actually,” Otto responded, settling into his chair behind the desk. He grinned at the frown that crossed his stepfather’s face. “He felt he owed Michael Stearns somewhat, so as a favor he shipped a small portion of the Bohemian royal wine cellars to Michael. Rebecca Abrabanel was kind enough to provide a small share of that to me. A small share of a small portion, to be sure, but I understand that the Bohemian wine cellars were, umm, significant, so there were more than a few bottles.” He chuckled as he swirled the wine in his own glass.

“Indeed,” Alemann said, lifting his glass again. “Small recompense for the damage Wallenstein’s dog Pappenheim did to Magdeburg, but I suppose we should be thankful for small blessings, no matter the source.”

Otto thought that was a remarkably temperate statement from one who had been in Magdeburg before the sack and resulting destruction done by Pappenheim’s troops several years before when he served under Tilly. Most survivors’ comments concerning the erstwhile Austrian army field commander began with the scatological and descended quickly to the infernal and blasphemous. The fact that Pappenheim was now firmly ensconced in Wallenstein’s court, and Wallenstein was now at least nominally allied with the USE and Gustavus Adolphus, had little effect on the depth of rancor that the survivors of the sack of Magdeburg had for him.

“Enough of unpleasant topics,” Alemann declared. “Why did you ask to meet with me, Otto?”

“Jacob, you are still a member of the Schöffenstuhl, correct?”

Gericke was referring to the senior jurisprudence body for the Magdeburger Recht association, the group of cities in central Europe which had been granted laws and rights by their sovereigns that were drawn from the laws and charter of Magdeburg itself. It had been located in Magdeburg, and until the sack had functioned as what the Grantvillers would have called an appellate court for cases that their own courts could not address or whose decisions needed ratification.

“Yah, you know that I am, but that means nothing now, Otto.” Alemann shook his head. “All of our files, all of our books, all of our documents were destroyed in the sack, except for a handful that I managed to snatch up in the face of the flames. Centuries of work, centuries of civilization, centuries of wisdom, now nothing but ash at Pappenheim’s hand.” From his expression, he would convert the soldier to a like condition if it were in his power. His mouth worked as if he desired to spit, but he refrained.

“But you and some of your fellow jurists still live.” Otto leaned forward, his expression very intense. “Your names still carry weight. People still respect your wisdom, especially people in this part of the USE. Maybe not so much over in the west or by the Rhineland, but definitely in Saxony, Brandenburg, Thuringia-Franconia, and even into Bohemia, Poland, and the Ukraine.”