Back | Next

Chapter 2: "Helmut, speaking for the Ram"


September, 1633

"And just who are you?" demanded the head of Bamberg's city council, after he and the rest of the council had been ushered into the room at the back of the Ratskeller. The man's name was Seifert. He was big, beefy, and had a bluff personality that he was doing his best to summon.

Under the circumstances.

Which were . . . not good for bluff and beefy Bamberg city officials.

Not good at all. Herr Seifert had only to consider the fact that the Ratskeller in the basement of his own city hall was now filled with men—some of them considerably beefier than he was, and not a few obviously Jaeger—who were in no sense under his control.

Quite the opposite. He had no doubt at all that the three men who had escorted him and his fellow council members into the back room were Jaeger. Seeing as how their method of "escorting" consisted mostly of prodding the council members forward with the butt of their rifles.

It didn't help that Seifert's expensive clothing was torn and dirty from being slammed to the cobblestones of the square where the American heretic was being flogged, when the mob erupted. Or that he sported several visible bruises, and was certain that he had several others under the clothing that were worse yet.

Especially the one on his right leg. He'd had to limp into the meeting room at the back of the Ratskeller.

Still, proprieties had to be maintained. So, again, he demanded:

"And just who are you?"


Constantin Ableidinger considered the question, and how he should answer it.

Stupid of him, really, not to have given any thought to it before. Sooner or later, after all, it was bound to come up. He ascribed the stupidity to a momentary lapse; the product of the constant activity he'd been engaged in since he arrived in Bamberg after being hastily summoned from the Coburg border.

To use his own name would be foolish, he decided, on a practical level. The rebellion might very well fail, as most farmers' rebellions did. In that case, he'd be on the run—if he wasn't already dead—and he saw no point in providing his enemies with an easy way to track him down, much less to track his son Matthias down.

But what was more important was that it would be inaccurate, in a much broader sense. In a manner that still puzzled him, whenever he thought about it, Ableidinger had somehow emerged as the effective leader of this new rebellion. One of a handful, at least. Hardly what a schoolteacher from a small provincial town would have expected!

But that was the key, perhaps. The great Bauernkrieg of the past century had been led in large part by theologians and knights. Thomas Muentzer. Goetz von Berlichingen. Impractically and flamboyantly, as theologians and knights did things.

And the Bauernkrieg had been defeated, in the end. Disastrously defeated. The number of dead, when it was all over, was estimated to have been as high as one hundred thousand people. Most of them farmers, of course.

Ableidinger was determined to avoid that, this time—the great casualties as well as the defeat. He thought they had a good chance of doing so, basically for two reasons.

First, official authority in Franconia was now in the hands of the American uptimers. Who, obviously, had no good idea how to wield that authority—but who, just as obviously, were not going to serve as a center for organizing a counter-revolution. In fact, if the Suhl incident was any guide, were far more likely to give a rebellion their blessing. Tacitly, if not openly.

Secondly, there was no Martin Luther to stab the farmers in the back. Even if a theologian of his stature were around—thankfully, there wasn't—Ableidinger had been very careful not to give the new rebellion a theological content of any kind. Well, at least nothing that wasn't directly quoted from the Bible by way of Thomas Paine. And only pertaining to the proper powers of the secular authorities. There'd be no convenient Anabaptist extremists, this time, to provide the reactionaries with an easy way to muddle the issue

Keep it simple, uncomplicated—and, most of all, purely political and civil.

Ableidinger grinned. The Americans would like that. It would appeal to their common sense.


So, grinning, he gave his answer:

"You may think of me as Helmut, speaking for the Ram."

Some Americans might even appreciate the joke. He'd gotten the idea, after all, from one of their uptime books—a copy of it, rather—that had, in the circuitous way these things happened, somehow worked its way into the house of the printer in Bamberg. Else Kronacher's daughter Martha had lent it to him, one of the times he'd visited and had had to spend a few days in the city.

Galactic Patrol, the title. One of those bizarre, feverish fantasies that some Americans seemed to dote on. Ableidinger had found the book enjoyable enough, despite the overwrought prose and the preposterous plot. If nothing else, he'd gotten a new joke out of it.

"The Ram?" blustered Seifert. "What `ram'?"

Unlike the other councilmen, who had by now slouched into the chairs provided for them in the center of the room, he had remained standing. An attempt, obviously, to retain what little semblance of authority he still had.

One of the Jaeger stepped forward and put a stop to that. A quick thrust of a rifle butt into the large stomach collapsed Seifert onto the chair behind him. More from the continuing series of shocks, Ableidinger thought, than the actual force of the stroke. The Jaeger who'd done it was Gerhardt Jost, a man so strong that if he'd delivered the sort of blow he was capable of, Seifert would have been on the floor, gasping for breath.

"Don't waste my time," Ableidinger said. "What difference does it make—to you—what ram it is? Accept that it is, and that it is a ram. Or you will continue to be afflicted by head-butts."

Constantin leaned back in his own chair, and waved his hand toward the windows high on the wall of the room that looked out over the square. "Do we need to make another demonstration? You thought you were in control, here in Bamberg, and would have the American flogged in order to prove it. We showed you otherwise."

Finally, one of the other councilmen spoke. His name was Färber, if Ableidinger remembered Frau Kronacher's briefing properly. The description fit, anyway.

"You planned this?" he asked. His jaw seemed a bit loose.

Ableidinger wagged a scolding finger. "For shame! Was it the ram who plotted to inflict injury on the American? Was it the ram who schemed with monks to humiliate him?"

"He's a heretic," Seifert hissed.

Such a stubborn man.

Foolish, too. Jost came forward to deliver another butt-thrust, but Ableidinger waved him back.

"Yes, he is. A most flagrant heretic. "`Latter-day saints,' no less. And so what? Haven't you read the new legal decrees, Herr Seifert?"

Seifert set his jaws and half-muttered, "We did not charge him with heresy."

"No, you didn't. Instead you trumped up civil charges. Do you think everyone is as stupid as you are?"

"You can't—"

Jost was still standing there. He lifted his rifle and gave Seifert a tap on the head. Not enough to injure the man, although it couldn't have been enjoyable.

"Yes, he can," the Jaeger growled.

"Do you want us shoot him, Const—ah, Helmut?" asked one of the other men in the room.

Seifert's eyes widened and his red face got redder still. The man who'd asked the question was Hermann Ackers, one of the ensigns of the city's militia. No outsider, he; no rural bumpkin.

"Ackers, you can't—"

Jost tapped him again; harder.

"Yes, he can," the Jaeger repeated.

Ableidinger decided to elaborate. "Unfortunately—for you, not Bamberg—Herr Fassbinder is no longer in command of the militia." He pointed a finger at Ackers. "He is."

Stubborn to the point of mindlessness. "You can't—"

"Hit him," Ableidinger commanded.

Jost came around the chair and sent Seifert sprawling to the floor of the cellar, his mouth a ruin.

Ableidinger glanced at a tooth skittering across the stones until it came to a stop against the leg of the chair where another city councilman was sitting. The man—Reimers, he thought the name was—lifted his foot in automatic reflex. Pale-faced, he stared down at the bloody tooth.

"So foolish of you, Herr Seifert," Ableidinger mused. "The only good dentists are in Grantville, you know. Although I am told a German has opened a practice in Jena. The Americans have started a dental school in the university there."

But Seifert was in no condition for repartee. Not that he ever was, of course, being so thick-witted. All that came out through the hand covering his mouth was a groan.

"So it is," Ableidinger pronounced, his eyes leaving Seifert to scan the faces of the rest of the city council.

He was pleased to see that all the faces were pale. That boded well for the future.

"For the moment, you may keep your offices. At least, those of you who did not directly instigate the flogging of Herr Thornton. Until such time as the city can replace you in an orderly manner. Do not, however, make the mistake of thinking your titles have any significance. They have none, any longer. They are merely figures of speech."

His finger lifted and swept across the line of men standing to one side of the room. "That is the new city council in all but name, just as Herr Ackers is the new commander of the town militia, in all but name. Private elections were held, and they were the ones selected."

One of the councilman still had a bit of spirit left, apparently. "But . . . selected by whom?"

"By the ram, of course. Who else?"

Ableidinger rose. "Remember. Figures of speech. Or we will have you flogged in the same square you flogged the Americans. And—be assured of this—there will be no one to intervene this time."

A smile came to his face. "Certainly not the Americans. Who are, I remind you, officially in charge."


Within a week after he got out of the infirmary, Johnnie F. had pieced together most of the truth. All of it, really, except the identity of the mysterious man who'd come into Bamberg for two or three weeks and somehow engineered what amounted to a political revolution in the city.

Noelle Murphy arrived just a day after Johnnie F. finished his inquiries. She'd been sent there as soon as Ed Piazza got word of the incident in Bamberg. By Mike Stearns himself, Johnnie F. was pretty sure.

"So, who was he?" she asked.

Johnnie F. shook his head. "I think the name he used was a fake. Even if it wasn't, it doesn't tell us much. `Helmut, speaking for the Ram.'"

Noelle burst into laughter. "You're kidding!"

"No, I'm not." He cocked his head, looking at her. "And what's so funny, anyway?"

She covered her mouth with a hand, stifling the laughter. "It's a joke. Germans don't even use `Helmut' as a given name in this time and place. It's almost got to be a joke. `Helmut, speaking for Boskone' was the villain in one of the Lensman books."

"The . . . what?"

She shook her head. "Never mind. If you've managed to reach this stage of your life without having your mind rotted by science fiction potboilers, far be it from me to seduce you to the Dark Side."

They'd been talking in one of the cramped offices in the American headquarters in Bamberg. "Can we get some air?"

"Sure." Johnnie F. led the way out. "I want to show you something, anyway."

Once they reached the street outside, Johnnie F. kept walking.

"What does the joke mean, d'you think?" He waved his hand. "I don't mean the arcane stuff. Like you said, I don't need my brain rotted. Any more than it is already. I mean politically."

Noelle pursed her lips. "Well, at a guess, it's a subtle hint to us."

"That he's a villain?"

"No, no. Just . . ."

But Johnnie F. had already figured it out for himself. "Never mind. Yeah, I can see it. His way of saying he's been studying us. But that seems like an awfully cryptic way of doing it. I mean . . . how many people in Grantville could he assume had read that book? Whatever it's called."

"Galactic Patrol, if I remember right."

They'd reached the big town square where the flogging had happened.

"Who knows, Johnnie? Maybe it was just his own private joke. I've been piecing together what I can about this guy, from the reports that have come into Grantville. Not all of them, by the way—not even most of them—are from our administrative staff here. Ever since the incident in Suhl, we've been on good terms with the Jaeger in the Thuringenwald and they pass bits and pieces on to us. Mostly, I'm pretty sure, whatever they're told to tell us."

"Told by who?"

Noelle shrugged. "This `Helmut,' at a guess. Or maybe it's the gunmakers at Suhl, especially Ruben Blumroder. Pat Johnson—he's Anse Hatfield's brother-in-law, the one with a gun shop in Suhl—tells us the Suhl gun-makers aren't sending guns south to the Bavarians any more. But he says they're still making more guns than he can account for. He's pretty sure they're selling them—at cost, he thinks—to somebody in Franconia."

Johnnie F. took a deep breath. "Oh, boy."

" `Oh, boy' is right. What I think—so does Mr. Stearns—is that there's a rebellion brewing here. And one that's already got what amounts to its own armament industry."

"That's got to be worrying Mike."

Noelle seemed to choke a little. "Uh, Johnnie, when I told him my conclusions—just before he sent me here—I thought he'd split his face. Grinning."

Johnnie F. rolled his eyes. "I keep thinking because his title is `President' that we're still back uptime. And he's entertaining dignitaries in the Rose Garden. All of them wearing expensive suits."

A smile flicked across Noelle's face. "There's an image for you."

The smile was gone almost as soon as it came. "This is the first time I've heard the name `Helmut,' but `the Ram' is all over those reports. Something's coming to the surface here in Franconia—something big—but it's still mostly invisible. Whoever this `Helmut' is, I think he's one shrewd cookie."

Johnnie F. thought about it. "A little on the whimsical side, too, it would appear. But don't kid yourself." He made a little nodding gesture with his head, indicating the square in front of them. "Take a look. Take a close, careful look."

Noelle did so. After about a minute she said, "This town's under martial law, isn't it? Not ours."

"Not . . . quite." Johnnie F. studied several of the men who were sitting at a small table outside the entrance to the town hall's Ratskeller. To all outward appearances, they were simply workmen enjoying a lunch. But the beers in front of them were only being sipped, and there was too much keen observation in the way they kept an eye on the square.

"Not quite," he repeated. "Not `martial law' so much as civil law. But it's a very hard hand, and it's very much in control. That's become obvious to me over the last week. And the city council's essentially disappeared. The official one, I mean."

Again, he gestured with his head. This time, toward the town hall. "There are still men meeting in there. Every evening, in fact. But none of them are on the council."

"Who are they?"

"Most of them, from what I've been able to find out, are from the guilds." He grinned. "Not a single member of the printers' guild, which I'll explain to you later. A lot of men from guilds with ties to the rural areas—fishers, boatmen, carters. More from the craft guilds than you would normally expect to see on the inner council; fewer merchants, but some. The real difference is that they aren't all masters. It includes some journeymen who never could afford to start their own shops. And a few members of the old Protestant patrician families who were thrown out in the 1620s. Vasold, Dittmayer. Steiner, I think. Getting some of their own back, even if they have to support a revolution to do it."

"In a word, it's authoritative."

"Very. Don't kid yourself, Noelle. For all practical purposes, Bamberg is already under the control of this `Ram' we keep hearing about. Even if we ordered out the small Swedish garrison we have in Bamberg, I think we'd get flattened. Worse than Suhl, if we were dumb enough to do what Horton did instead of Anse."

"But they're taking pains—considerable pains—to avoid clashing with us."

"Yes. I think it's more than that, in fact. I think they're using us as their figurehead. Well, not that, exactly. Brillo is their figurehead. We're sorta their fig leaf. Official cover, so to speak."

Noelle was now studying the men sitting at the table. They returned her gaze. Not in an unfriendly way, just . . .

Impassively. As if they were simply waiting.

"Winter's coming," she said abruptly. "The Ram will use those slow months to keep building support. It'll all come to the surface in the spring and summer of next year."

"You think?"

"Yes. Is this what you wanted to show me?"

"Part of it. But we're going somewhere else."


A few minutes later, they entered a street that seemed to be Bamberg's "Printers' Row."

"Where are we going?"

"I want to introduce you to somebody. One of the printshop owners. Frau Else Kronacher."

Noelle raised an eyebrow. "A woman? Heading up a printshop?"

Johnnie F. grinned. "She's having a battle royal with the guild. As you can imagine. Although that seems to have settled down, this past week. As you can also imagine."

Both of Noelle's eyebrows were up, now.

"Oh, yeah," said Johnnie F. "I'm not sure yet, but I think she's real close to the `Ram.' Helmut himself, unless I miss my guess."

They'd reached the entrance to one of the shops. Johnnie F. turned to face Noelle squarely, his face very solemn.

Johnnie F. was never solemn.

Noelle rolled her eyes. "Let me guess."

"Yup. Your mission, should you decide to accept it . . ."

"Cut it out, Johnnie!"

"Mindrot comes in lots of flavors. I loved that show. Should you decide to accept it . . ."

Back | Next