1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 55

There was one thought on the minds of every man facing her. Franz could see it in their eyes. But only one had the courage to say it. There was a stir as men moved — or were moved — out of the way to allow Gunther Achterhof to reach the front. He nodded to Marla, which Franz knew was equivalent to a genuflection from a lesser man, and said in a quiet voice, “Wieder, bitte — again, please.”

         Marla nodded in return.

The room was quiet as she regained her breath, waiting with a hard singleness of purpose. After some moments, she looked over to Franz and lifted a hand. He looked to their friends, gave the nod, and began again.

The second time through was not as intense as the first time. It couldn’t help but be lesser. No singer could give at that most extreme level for very long. Oh, Franz could tell that Marla still felt the passion for the song, and she still gave it a superlative performance, but the unique edge was missing. She was just Marla with the angelic voice now, rather than being the Sword of Music, or of God. But that was still enough.

Men throughout the room mouthed the words, trying to commit them to memory. These were words that would change men’s lives. Franz knew it, and they could sense it.

The song came to an end a second time. There was a brief moment of silence, until Logau began rapping his walking stick on his table top in a slow regular beat that matched the pulse of the song. Hands and feet quickly followed suit, until the building rocked from the regular percussive slam of sound.

Marla faced the men. Franz could see her shoulders beginning to shake, so he handed off his violin to one of the Amsel brothers and went to guide her to a stool. Gronow leapt up from his and shoved it forward with alacrity. Franz looked up and caught Gunther’s gaze. He drew his hand across his throat sharply.

Gunther got the point as if they had discussed having a special signal. He gave a piercing whistle, then yelled, “Out! The evening’s over. Remember it, but go home now.”

CoC men coalesced from all over the room, forming a barrier between Marla and her friends and the rest of the crowd. The tavern emptied; amidst shoving and protesting, granted, but it emptied.

Franz waved Gunther over, and handed him a piece of paper from his pocket.

“She said you would want this.”

Gunther took it with upraised eyebrows.

“Words,” Franz explained.

Gunther unfolded it enough to see the first verse of lyrics to the song, and flashed a tight smile to them all. “She is so right. Thank you, my friend,” he shook Franz’s hand, “my friends,” he swept his gaze around the rest of the group, “Frau Marla,” he nodded again to her. “This will mean quite a lot to the people.”

There was a stir in the doorway, someone trying to go against the flow. Whoever it was managed to penetrate the crowd, until he bounced off of the CoC men.

Franz had just drawn Marla to her feet, ready to take her home. He looked around at the disturbance, and caught a glimpse of a familiar face being pushed away.

“Let him through,” he called out. A moment later, Andrea Abati squeezed through the barrier of muscle and hurried over to take Marla’s hands.

Marla looked up at him — one of the few down-timers who was taller than she — and her mouth quirked a bit, as if she was trying to smile.

“Did you hear me, Master Andrea?”

“I wasn’t able to get inside, but I was able to stand in the doorway and hear you.” He was very serious, and he swallowed before he spoke again. “Oh, child, what have you wrought?”

Franz could see the iron determination on Marla’s face, as weary and drained as she was.

“What I must, Master Andrea. What I must.”


          Franz arose early the next morning. By some miracle of scheduling, Atwood had managed to arrange for a ride on a river boat leaving Magdeburg that day, even though it was Sunday. By the time the sun was shining over the city walls, Franz and Atwood were walking out the front door to catch a cab for the river dock. Atwood allowed Franz to carry the duffle, but the up-timer still insisted on carrying the case with the precious recording rig.

A couple of men leaning against the front of their house straightened as they came out the door. Atwood frowned a bit, but relaxed when Franz greeted them.

“Klaus, Reuel. It has been a while since I’ve seen you.”

“Aye,” Klaus nodded. “Gunther said after last night that we should stand watch again for a while.”

“Watch?” Atwood asked.

“I am sorry, I forgot to introduce you. Herr Cochran, meet Klaus and Reuel, two of the staunchest members in the ranks of the Committees of Correspondence.” Atwood held his hand out. “Guys, this is Atwood Cochran from Grantville, Marla’s good friend.” They smiled and shook hands with the up-timer.

Klaus snapped his fingers. “I almost forgot.” He started digging through his pockets. “Gunther wanted you to have this right away.” He grinned in triumph and produced a much folded sheet of paper from his coat and handed it to Franz.

Franz unfolded it to produce a broadsheet. The caption blazoned across the top read:

Ein Anruf Zu Den Armen

          Atwood looked over his shoulder. “I still have trouble reading the heavy scripts,” he said. “What does it say?”

“A Call To Arms,” Franz translated. He gestured to the balance of the broadsheet. “And here are the words Marla sang last night.”

Atwood whistled. “That was fast work, to get this out so quickly.”

Klaus grinned. “Gunther had the press crew up out of bed as soon as he got back to the Arches last night. Told them he didn’t care what they had to do, he wanted this on the streets by dawn.” He chuckled. “They did it, too.”

Franz tried to hand the broadsheet back to Klaus, who held up a hand in refusal.

“That’s for you and Frau Marla, Herr Franz. Gunther insisted you have one of the first copies. ‘That’s little enough,’ he said, ‘for what she has worked for us.'”

Franz nodded his thanks, folded the broadsheet back up with care, and placed it in his own jacket pocket.

“Herr Franz,” Reuel spoke up, “you tell Frau Marla that we heard her sing last night, and we really liked it. But that last song,” his expression became very sober, “that last song was something special. You tell her that for us, and tell her that . . . just tell her that.”

“I will,” Franz assured him.

“There’s already men kicking themselves that they were not there to hear her last night,” Klaus added.