1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 24


Their badinage ended as they stopped before a familiar door. The sign above the door read Zopff and Sons, and through the small panes of glass set in the door they could see the printing presses the firm operated. Franz opened the door, and they stepped in, to be greeted by their friend Patroclus.

          “Franz! Marla!” He advanced with open hands, albeit somewhat ink stained.

“Don’t touch me,” Marla warned. “Last time you got that ink on me, it took me two days to get it off.”

Patroclus laughed. “All right, I will keep my hands to myself, then. But what brings you to see us? We do not have a commission from you at the moment, do we?”

“Nope,” Marla said. “Although I think the Grantville Music Trust will have the next batch of music to be printed ready before long.”

The younger of the two Zopff sons, Telemachus, came up behind his brother just as she said that. He made a face. “Music. All the fiddly little bits with the notes and stems and flags going just so. I would rather set ten pages of words, even in Roman type, than a single page of music.”

Patroclus landed a back-hand on his brother’s biceps. “That music has kept us in sausage and ale the last couple of years, and you should be thankful for it.”

Telemachus made another face and headed back to his press.

“So if you don’t have a commission for us, what is the occasion for your dropping by?” Patroclus asked.

“I need a poet,” Marla said. Patroclus raised an eyebrow, and she continued, “I have a song with English lyrics, and I need them translated into good German. But it can’t just be a literal translation; a few of the lines will need to be modified to fit the modern circumstances. That’s going to take poetic skill. So, I’m hoping you know a man we can contact.”

“Hmm.” Patroclus rubbed his chin, leaving a trace of ink behind. “A poet, who reads up-timer English, and is skilled at his art. And is in Magdeburg. I can think of several who can write doggerel, good enough for that.” He nodded at the broadsheet that Franz was still holding. “But one who is truly worthy of the name poet?” He shook his head. “My mind is empty.”

Telemachus turned around from the typesetting bench he was working at. “Logau might be able to do it.”

Patroclus looked back at his brother. “Who?”

“Friedrich von Logau. You know, the guy who wrote that epigram you like so much:

Was bringt den Mann zum Amte?

Vermutlich seine Kunst?

Gar selten, was denn anders?

Fast immer Geiz und Gunst.

Franz saw a hint of confusion on Marla’s face. For all that she was adept at the Amideutsch that was common around Magdeburg and Grantville, and for all that she was better than adequate at the local dialect and in the specialized language of music, poetry was another level of skill she hadn’t fully developed yet. He ran through the epigram in his head one more time, then translated it for her as:

What brings a man into public office?

Presumably his ability?

Very seldom, so what else?

Almost always, greed and connections.

“Hah!” Marla’s face lit up. “Okay, I don’t know kielbasa from bratwurst as far as German poetry goes, but if that’s his attitude, I think I like the man.”

“The CoC like him,” Telemachus said before he turned back to his work.

“I can see why. So where do I find him?” Marla turned back to Patroclus.

“He has been writing things for the Times-Journal.” He shrugged. “Start with them.”


          Ciclope and Pietro moved to the side of the road and stopped to rest their horses. Magdeburg had been in sight in the distance for some time, but Ciclope saw no reason to exhaust the animals. They were pretty worn as it was. It had been a long fast ride from Venice, and there had not been much grain available for a lot of the way. And truth to tell, neither he nor Pietro were the most accomplished riders around, although they were somewhat better now than they were when they began the ride. Now that the end was in sight, he didn’t begrudge their mounts a few moments of rest.

“So tell me again, One-Eye,” Pietro muttered, “what are we going to be doing here? And why did we come all the way from Venice to do it?”

Ciclope hardly ever thought of his birth name. For years, ever since he had lost his left eye in a desperate fight, he had gone by the Italian form of Cyclops. It piqued his sense of humor; he was a solid bulk of a man, but not inordinately large, and the thought of being compared to a giant did make him smile a bit every now and then.

“Pietro, how many times do I have to tell you . . .”

“One more time. What are we going to be doing?”

Ciclope sighed. “I don’t know. All I know is the boss got a request to send two men to Magdeburg who will not be known to the residents nor to the up-timers from Grantville, and who ‘know how to handle difficult situations.'”

“Sounds to me like somebody is trying to be clever.” Pietro spat to the off side of his horse.

“Perhaps,” Ciclope nodded. “But the boss owes a favor to the guy who sent the request, so here we are. And we don’t dare leave without doing the job.”

Pietro shuddered. “Nay. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in this land of barbarians, and if we were to go south of the Alps back to civilized country, the boss would find us.”

Ciclope reached up and adjusted his eye patch. “Sooner we get into town, meet the new boss, and get the job done, the sooner we can get back to Venice.”

“Let’s go, then.”

The two men urged their horses back into motion, and headed for the capital of the USE.