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Chapter 54

The witching hour started at midnight. From loudspeakers positioned at five places surrounding the Wartburg, music suddenly blared forth. A wooded hill in seventeenth-century Thuringia was blessed with the popular tastes of a much later era.

Harry Lefferts' tastes, anyway. Somehow—Mike never was clear on the exact chain of command involved—Harry had gotten himself appointed DJ for the occasion.

He began, naturally, with the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," then, followed with "Satisfaction" and "Street Fighting Man."

So far, so good. The arguments started thereafter. To the disgust of the teenage American soldiers in the army, Harry, despite his own relative youth, turned out to be a Classic Rock enthusiast. He followed the Stones' openers with various selections from Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Doors.


"I can't believe this antique shit," hissed Larry Wild. The young "artillery specialist" was making the final adjustments to one of the catapults, working in the light thrown out by an electric hang lamp. Greg Ferrara was directing the work. The crew which would actually fire the contraption was standing nearby, next to the portable generator.

Larry's voice was bitter, aggrieved—betrayed. "Bob Dylan?"

The strains of "Positively Fourth Street" finally ended. Larry heaved a thankful sigh, as did Eddie Cantrell. But the third member of the "special artillery unit" did not share their relief.

"It's gonna get worse," predicted Jimmy Andersen gloomily.

Sure enough. Southwest Thuringia, at that very moment, was rocked with—

Larry and Eddie shrieked in unison. "Elvis Presley? You gotta be kidding!"

Alas, Harry turned out to be a devotee of the King, so the torment of the special artillery unit was protracted. By the time the first catapult was assembled and ready, they were trembling with outrage.

Then, torment became torture. Over the loudspeakers, Harry announced he was taking requests. Instantly—despite all of Greg Ferrara's squawks about military discipline—the trio scurried through the woods, bound and determined to bring reason and sanity back into the world.

Not a chance. By the time they reached Harry's impromptu "music HQ," the small clearing was thronged with soldiers eagerly calling out their requests. The noncommissioned ranks of the U.S. army were still primarily composed of middle-aged UMWA members, and Harry cheerfully bowed to their veteran wisdom.

Larry and Eddie groaned. Jimmy staggered and reeled.

Reba McEntire?!

Desperately, as "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" echoed across war-ravaged central Europe and added to that poor land's agony, Larry and his friends tried to rally support among the soldiers who now formed the bulk of the U.S. military.

No use. Many of those soldiers, of course, were youngsters like themselves. But, by August of 1632, the ranks of the U.S. army were primarily filled with Germans, who, as it developed—especially the younger ones—had become something in the way of country-western fans. They liked Reba McEntire just fine, thank you.

Ferrara finally managed to drive his underlings back to work. Feverishly—anything to keep their minds off the pain—they worked their way around the hill, readying the other two catapults. But then, done with that immediate task, the youngsters could bear it no longer. Despite all of Ferrara's protests about the "chain of command," they marched in a body to the army's central HQ, determined to bring their complaints to the very top.

And, again, met the stone wall of officialdom.

"Sorry, guys," said Mike. "Can't help you." He glanced at his watch, turning his wrist to bring the dial into the light thrown by the gas lantern hanging at the entrance to the field tent. "Yeah, what I thought. It's two o'clock in the morning. The preliminaries are over. Time for the main program."

He grinned down at the three aggrieved youngsters. "All that other stuff," he waved, "was just the warm-up. Now we'll get to the real psychological warfare."

They stared up him, uncomprehending. Mike's grin widened.

"Becky put it together," he explained.

At that moment, the sounds of a very different music erupted over the hillside. The three boys standing in front of him flinched.

"Jesus," whined Jimmy. "What is that?"

A few feet away, Frank Jackson laughed. "And you thought your stuff was 'out there'!" Frank shook his head. "Forget it, boys. Becky's about ten times smarter than you, and she's got all those centuries to pick from."

He cocked his head, listening. "Horrible stuff, ain't it?"

Mike pursed his lips. "It's pretty good, actually. If you listen to it in the right frame of mind."

Frank chuckled. "That's just the accommodating husband speaking, Mike. Like me pretending nuoc mam don't taste like rotten fish."

Jackson twitched his head. "I hope there ain't much of this selection. Gross violation of the rules of war, what it is."

Mike smiled. "Just a few minutes. Even Becky'll admit that a little of Berg's Wozzeck goes a long way."


To the Spanish soldiers in the Wartburg, the eerie cacophony of Wozzeck seemed to last a very long time. The soldiers crammed into the castle were filled with anxiety. For two hours, now, they had been subjected to that incredible aural bombardment. For the soldiers standing on the ramparts, it had been even worse. The blinding glare of the spotlights which Ferrara and his teenage "tech warriors" had jury-rigged, sweeping endlessly back and forth across the castle, added visual assault as well.

As always with Spanish armies, the troops were accompanied by officials of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Ten priests, now standing on the ramparts alongside the soldiers, hissed their fury.

Fury—and fear. The Spanish branch of the Inquisition, which answered only to the crown of Spain, was an order of magnitude more vicious and unrestrained than the Papal Inquisition. But they were by no means mindless thugs. The Spanish Inquisition had developed secret police techniques to a level of sophistication which would not be surpassed until the Tsarist Okhrana of the late nineteenth century. By the standards of the seventeenth century, they were considered the unrivaled practitioners of what a later age would call "psychological warfare."

They had just met their master. Their mistress, rather. It was a pity, perhaps, that they did not understand the historical irony involved. A young woman from the cursed race which the Inquisition had hounded for two centuries was about to pay them back in full measure. Her own intelligence, coupled to the entire musical tradition of a later Western world, would complete the task which rock and roll and country-western had begun.

The selection from Wozzeck ended. As the next piece began blaring in the night, the Inquisitors heaved a small sigh of relief. At least this music—whatever it was—had some logic.

Their relief lasted not more than a minute. There is a logic to Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, true enough. But it was not a logic which appealed to them. Neither did the grinding, ominous strains of the same composer's "Bydlo" from Pictures at an Exhibition.

Rebecca built from there. Grieg's short, sharp, thunderous "In the Hall of the Mountain King" came next. As the popularity of that portion of Peer Gynt grew, over the years after its composition, Grieg himself had come to detest the thing. "The worst kind of Norwegian bombast," he once called it. But on that night, the savage Nordic triumphalism of the piece served Rebecca's purpose well enough.

Tremble, lords of the dungeon! Trolls and Vikings are at your door!

A Russian variation on the theme followed. The heroic choral strains of "Arise, ye Russian People" from Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky filled the air, succeeded immediately by the driving fury of "The Battle on the Ice." On the ramparts of the castle above, the Spanish variation of the Teutonic Knights suffered, in their minds, the same disaster which had befallen the butchers of Pskov centuries earlier on the real ice of Lake Chud.

The Inquisitors tried to dispel their own growing terror by driving their soldiers into action. Shrieking and bellowing, they forced shivering Spanish arquebusiers to the ramparts. Dragging them by the neck, in some cases, ordering them to fire at the Satanic music and spotlights.

Given the inaccuracy of arquebuses, the command was foolish enough. Given the accuracy of the weapons in the hands of the devils in the darkness, it was sheer folly.

"Take them out!" commanded Mike. He studied the ramparts through the binoculars. The spotlights were now focused on the priests and soldiers lined along the battlements, illuminating them clearly. "Aim for the inquisitors!"

Alexander Nevsky ended, immediately replaced by the conclusion of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto no. 3. The wild exuberance of the music from the third movement served as a backdrop for the rambunctious enthusiasm of the U.S. snipers. Julie Sims was not among their number, true. But if Julie was the best sharpshooter in the U.S. army, there were many other very fine ones. Within two minutes, all of the Spanish soldiers had retreated from the battlements. They left behind twenty of their own dead—and seven inquisitors.


"A daft breed," grumbled Lennox. He and Mackay had tried to seek shelter from the auditory storm in the HQ tent. To no great avail, as loudly as Harry was playing the music. "A guid thing I slept earlier. Get nae sleep now."

Alex shrugged. " 'Tis better than rap music."

Lennox snorted. "Anyt'in' is better'n tha' crap!"

Another piece blared over the loudspeakers. Lennox flinched.

Mike, seeing the motion out of the corner of his eye, turned his head and grinned.

"That's from something called The Rite of Spring," he explained. "Becky's real fond of it."

"Glad she's no my wife," muttered Lennox under his breath. "Even if t'lass does look like Cleopatra."

Mackay smiled. He stepped forward, coming alongside Mike at the tent's entrance.

"I'm curious," he said. "Rebecca's been with you lunatics for not much more than a year." Alex gestured into the darkness with his chin. "So how has she managed to learn so much of your music?"

Mike shrugged. "Beats me. Her father helped, of course. Balthazar's gotten to be a fanatic about classical music. Says he's sick to death of stupid lutes." He hesitated, torn between pride and a desire not to seem like a doting husband. But, since he was both proud of his wife—fiercely proud—and a doting husband, the struggle was brief.

"I don't know, Alex. How she managed that, along with all her reading, and everything else? I just don't know." His chest swelled. "The only thing I know for sure is that Becky's the smartest person I've ever met. Or ever will, I imagine."

Mackay nodded. "True enough. Still—"

He froze. "What is that?"

Mike listened, for a moment, to the sound of Leontyne Price's powerful soprano. Then, laughed. "Don't you like it? It's called the 'Liebestod.' By a guy named Wagner."

Alex pursed his lips. "Incredible voice, I grant you." He grimaced. "But it sounds as if the poor woman is dying."

"She is." Mike turned his head, staring at the battlements above. Gaily: "And she takes her sweet time about it, let me tell you."


And so it went, through the night. The program which Rebecca had prepared followed the "Liebestod" with a whole dose of Wagner. She detested the composer, as it happened—as much for the histrionics of his music as for his personal vileness and anti-Semitism. But she thought the music suited the occasion. So, striking their ears like lead mallets, the Spanish soldiers forted up in a German castle were assaulted by the ultimate in Teutonic bombast. "The Ride of the Valkyries" came next, followed by all of the orchestral grandiosities from the Der Ring des Nibelungen: "Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla," "Wotan's Farewell," "Siegfried's Funeral March" and—last but not least—the "Immolation of the Gods."

When it was over, Frank Jackson sighed with relief. "Good thing they lost World War II," he growled. "Can you imagine having to listen to that shit forever?"

Mike snorted. "You think that was bad?" He glanced at the eastern horizon. The first hint of dawn was appearing in the sky. "Try listening to Parsifal, some time."

He raised the binoculars and studied the battlements. They were still shrouded in darkness, except where the spotlights flashed across the walls. There was not a soldier in sight.

"Becky made me do it, once. All five hours of the damned thing."

Jackson frowned. "Why? I thought you told me she hated Wagner."

"She does. She just wanted to prove her point."

A new, very different strain of music came over the loudspeakers. Mike glanced at his watch. "Perfect timing," he said softly. "What the French call the 'pièce de résistance.'"

Frank cocked his ear. "What is it?"

"According to Becky, this piece of music captures the heart of war like nothing else ever composed." Mike stepped out of the tent and strode into the clearing beyond. Seeing Ferrara standing nearby, he signaled with his hand. The former science teacher nodded and turned to his youthful subordinates. Partners in crime, rather.

"Time to start the fireworks, boys." Grinning, Larry, Eddie and Jimmy scampered off, each headed for one of the catapults—and the rocket stands which stood near them.

Mike returned, walking slowly and pausing at every step. He was listening to the music. By the time he got back to the tent, Frank's face seemed strained.

As well it might be. Shostakovich's Symphony no. 8 was well underway now, blasting the horror of a war-ravaged Russia of the future across the war-ravaged land of today's Germany. Stalin had wanted a triumphalist piece, to celebrate the growing tide of Soviet victory over the Nazis. But Shostakovich, though a Soviet patriot himself, had given the dictator something quite different—the greatest symphony of the twentieth century. And if the piece as a whole transcended the year 1943, the third movement did not. It was a pure, unalloyed, cold-eyed shriek. Terror and agony and heartbreak, captured in music.

The first rockets sailed from their launching pads and began exploding over the ramparts. The explosive charges in the warheads were not designed for destruction so much as for show. Instead of splattering the castle with shrapnel, they shrouded the Wartburg with sparkling dazzle. A glaring, flaming accompaniment to the Symphony no. 8—a visual promise, added to a musical one. This is what awaits you, soldiers of Spain.


Dawn arrived, and the third movement screamed into silence. The last rockets flared in the sky.

Silence. Stillness, at last. Mike waited, studying his watch. He and Rebecca had decided on five minutes of peace. A "tension-builder," she had called it.

When the five minutes were up, Mike gave the order and the catapults began to fire. An ancient design, coupled to modern materials, hurled cannisters onto the battlements of the Wartburg.

These first missiles, though they contained a small explosive charge, were still part of the psychological campaign. They burst over the castle and showered leaflets onto the thousands of soldiers huddled inside the walls. The leaflets were written in Spanish and German, calling on the soldiers to surrender and promising good treatment to those who did.

Over the loudspeakers, Spanish-speaking soldiers in the U.S. army called out the same terms of surrender. Food. Water. Good treatment. No atrocities. Recruitment—at good pay—for those who choose to join the army of the United States.

When the catapult barrage ended, the voices calling over the loudspeaker were replaced by more music. Rebecca had selected these pieces also; choosing, this time, for a different purpose. The Spaniards had been given one alternative. Now, the other.

The tranquil strains of "Morning Mood" from Grieg's Peer Gynt filled the dawn. To Mike, and Frank, and Mackay and Lennox, and all the U.S. soldiers surrounding the castle, the music came like a balm. They could well imagine its effect on the Spaniards.

"Morning Mood" faded away. In its place came music even more serene, spreading with the daylight. Like peace and hope, after the night.

Frank seemed transfixed. Gently, seeing his friend's face, Mike said: "Becky thinks this is the most beautiful piece of music ever written. Though she admits it's a matter of taste."

"She's got good taste," whispered Frank. "Makes me think of a bird, soaring through the sky."

Mike nodded. The Lark Ascending, by Ralph Vaughan Williams, had been inspired by the composer's own beloved English countryside. But it filled the air over central Germany as if it belonged there.

"As it does," said Mike softly. "As it does. Here—and everywhere."

He turned his head, looking to the east. There, somewhere under the rising sun less than a hundred miles away, his wife would be in their kitchen. Rebecca was an early riser. Mike knew that she would have already prepared breakfast for her beloved father, even though she was moving more slowly these days due to her pregnancy. The German family which had once lived in Mike's house had found new lodgings, and Balthazar had moved in with them. He and Mike's invalid mother got along well, and Balthazar wanted to spend the rest of his days watching his grandchild grow up.

"Here—and everywhere," Mike repeated. His voice was very soft, and very loving.

The Lark Ascending faded away. Frank cleared his throat. The sound was regretful. More like a sigh than anything else.

"They won't surrender," he said. "Not yet."

Mike shook his head abruptly, banishing thoughts of love and tranquility.

"No, they won't," he said harshly. He turned to face the castle. "But I don't think it'll take much. Just a touch of the fire."


As it happens, Mike had misjudged. Rebecca had risen much earlier than usual, that day. Melissa had asked her to come to the school early that morning, to discuss something before classes started.

So, at the very moment when Mike ordered the catapults to start firing again, Rebecca was walking along Route 250. She had just left the outskirts of the town and was enjoying the solitude and the tranquility of early morning.


Others were not enjoying the morning.

When Jeff awoke, he discovered that his fever had broken. But he still felt lousy. His whole body ached.

Gretchen came into the bedroom, carrying a bowl of porridge. She was already dressed, wearing, as always, her beloved blue jeans and sneakers.

"Eat," she commanded, driving down her husband's protest. "You will need your strength today." She smiled. "You'll have to fend for yourself until evening. I promised Dan Frost I'd help teach his new batch of recruits."

Gretchen's smile twisted, became slightly derisive. "German girls! Still don't really believe a woman can use a gun."

Jeff had wondered why Gretchen was wearing her bodice and vest. She usually preferred a simple blouse, especially in warm weather. He eyed the heavy garments, looking for the pistol. He couldn't spot it. Gretchen's pregnancy was still not showing in her belly. But Jeff thought it was definitely showing itself in her already impressive bust.

It was a happy thought. Gaily, Gretchen slapped his head. "And stop staring at my tits! What a scandal!"

* * *

Four hundred West Gothlanders, Finns and Lapps were also not happy that morning. Captain Gars had roused his little army long before daybreak, and driven them ever since. The pace he was setting, on horseback through an unknown forest, varied between recklessness and downright insanity.

But they uttered no protest. There would have been no point. Captain Gars was not one to listen to the voice of caution, and he had a will of iron.

A madman. It was well known.


The car pulled up alongside Rebecca. James leaned out of the window. "Want a ride?"

Smiling, Rebecca turned. "Good morning, James. Melissa." When she spotted Julie Sims, sitting in the back seat, her smiled widened. Not too much, she hoped. "Julie." Rebecca shook her head. "No, thank you. I am enjoying the walk."

James nodded. He had expected the answer. As one of the town's two doctors who could drive a car, James was exempt from the ban on private motor vehicle operation. He always drove Melissa to school and would spend the morning there attending to the medical needs of the students. Often enough, he had passed Rebecca walking alongside the road, offered a ride, and had the offer declined. Rebecca liked to walk.

"See you later, then."

As the car pulled away and disappeared around a bend in the road, Rebecca's smile became a wide grin. Now that Julie could no longer see her, she made no attempt to hide her amusement.

Poor girl! So frantic, when there is so little need.

Julie, she knew, would have spent the night at Melissa's house. In her anxiety over her unexpected pregnancy, Julie would have gone to Melissa for advice and comfort, talking so late into the night that Melissa would have invited her to sleep over.

Melissa and James' house, now. The doctor had moved in with her months ago. The prim and proper schoolteacher was making no attempt any longer to disguise their relationship. And if that indiscretion scandalized the town's more prudish residents—not to mention the bigots—it had the opposite effect on others. Over the months, Melissa Mailey's status among her students and former students—especially the girls—had undergone a sea change. She had become something of a surrogate mother. Or, perhaps, a beloved aunt. Relaxed, confident, serene—approachable, in a way the schoolmarm had never been. Her house had become a haven and a refuge for such.

Rebecca resumed her morning promenade, still smiling. James had grumbled to her, once, that he sometimes felt he was living in a boarding home for wayward girls. But Rebecca had not missed the warmth and affection under the gruffness. Julie, she knew, was a particular favorite of his. Last night was not the first time she had slept on the couch in their living room.

Rebecca made her slow way along the side of the road, full of good cheer. Even her waddle pleased her. She would be glad enough, of course, to resume her former svelte figure when the time came. But for all things there is a season. She was looking forward to being a mother.

She breathed in the clean air. A line from one of her father's favorite plays came to her. It fit her mood to perfection. So much so that she shouted it gaily to the hills around her:

"O brave new world, that hath such people in it!"


After he finished his breakfast, Jeff rose from the bed. He was feeling a bit energetic himself. He was sick of being sick, and wanted to do something. Anything.

Staring out of the trailer's kitchen window, his eyes fell on the dirt bike parked outside. Grew thoughtful.

The decision came within seconds. He wasn't foolish enough to try riding in rough terrain, as poorly as he still felt. But a little spin would do him some good. He scurried about and got dressed for the occasion, not forgetting the leather jacket.

By the time he went out the door, he had already decided on his destination. The school was only two miles away, a quick and easy run on the best road in the world. Jeff thought it would be nice to drop in on Ms. Mailey. Just to say hello, before he came back to his cursed sickbed. Why not? Dr. Nichols had told Gretchen that he wouldn't be infectious anymore.

He had already straddled the bike when he remembered something. For a moment, scowling, he almost decided to leave it behind. Rules and discipline be damned!

Habit dies hard. The bike was now, officially, the property of the U.S. army. Jeff was a soldier in that army, even if he was usually on detached duty working with Gretchen and her less-than-official underground. But he was still required to carry a firearm when using a military vehicle.

Better safe than sorry. Some busybody might spot him. Jeff hurried back into the trailer, got the shotgun, and stuck it into the bike's saddle-holster. An instant later he was roaring off, enjoying the breeze.


On the steep slope above Route 250, hidden in the trees, four Croat horsemen stared at the road below. They were the advance scouts for the oncoming imperial cavalry, send ahead to study the approaches. There had been a half dozen of them, in the beginning. But now that the town's layout and the school had been examined, two had already returned to report. The others had been about to follow. But then, spotting movement on the road, they had moved forward to investigate.

One of the horsemen took his eyes off the woman and scanned the road. "She's alone," he murmured.

One of his companions nodded. The gesture was quick, eager. "A Jew bitch too, by the look of her." His hand fondled the hilt of his saber. "Two for one," he chuckled savagely. "We can spill her big belly after we're done."



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