1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 28

 

1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 28:

 

 

            “Never mind,” she said cheerily. “You managed to get in. I’m Caroline Platzer, by the way. I’m the receptionist here, three mornings a week. What’s your name, and what can I do for you?”

 

            Thorsten cleared his throat. “My name is Thorsten Engler. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Fraulein.”

 

            He thought he was safe enough, using that last appellation. So far as he could see, the Platzer woman wasn’t wearing one of those gold rings that Americanesses used—so legend had it, at least—to signal their status as married women. He couldn’t be positive, though, because even while speaking to him her hands continued to fly about the desk, doing… whatever it was a “receptionist” did. He might have missed one of the fingers.

 

            She startled him with a soft laugh. “Oh, relax, will you? Herr Engler, I promise you I won’t bite. Even if you do use one of the—how many are there supposed to be, by now?—eighty-three thousand, six hundred and forty-two Absolutely Forbidden Words in my presence. That includes any one of the five hundred and six Absolutely Prohibited Forms of Address, except three.”

 

            Warily, Thorsten eyed her. “And those three… are which?”

 

            “If you call me a bitch or a cunt or a twat, I’ll knock your head off.” Her right hand came up, waggling a little. “A broad or a dame… depends.”

 

            He stared at her. He was familiar with the terms “bitch” and “cunt,” since the words had been absorbed into Amdeutsch. He had no idea what “twat” meant, but in context, he could guess. “Dame” was obvious, although he suspected he’d encountered a different connotation than the usual one.

 

            “I would never do such a thing anyway,” he said. The words came out automatically, not even a protest so much as a simple statement of fact. Most of his mind was still trying to make sense of “broad.” He understood the approximate meaning of the term, but could see no connection to women.

 

            Her eyes crinkled. “Y’know, I believe you. Would you like some tea?”

 

            Without waiting for the answer, she rose from her seat and went over to a counter where a pot waited, simmering on a peculiar little mechanical candle of some sort. On her way, Thorsten saw one guess confirmed. She was indeed tall. Slightly taller that he was, he thought, though not by much. Less than an inch.

 

            Then she bent over to reach the jar of tea nestled on a shelf below, and the sense of the term “broad” became instantly clear to Thorsten. Just as instantly as the stirrings of an erection.

 

            Dear God in Heaven. None of the legends had prepared him for this.

 

            Yes, certainly, she was a bit exotic and a bit startling with that direct manner she had, and she was a bit of this and a bit of that and it was all silly nonsense. She wasn’t even beautiful, although she came awfully close. What she was, was something Thorsten had felt and understood since he was fourteen years old and had first laid eyes on one of his second cousins.

 

            Desirable. Sheer and unalloyed, it was as simple as that.

 

            Poor Brigida, that had been, who had died in the first epidemic that swept the village. She’d only been sixteen years old, a little older than Thorsten at the time. But for every day that had passed in the two years since the glorious moment he first met her and the horrid time they took her body away to be burned, he had desired her. He’d been completely smitten, in the way boys often were and young men were never supposed to be, once they entered adulthood and had to be practical about such things.

 

            Thorsten had never expected to encounter that sensation again. Certainly not under these circumstances.

 

            Fortunately, while those thoughts and emotions roiled through him, the Platzer woman was looking elsewhere as she went about the business of preparing the tea. By the time she turned around to face him and, still smiling, handed him a mug of tea, he was reasonably composed again.

 

            “Reasonably composed,” that is to say, in the way that a twenty-six year old man will be when raw desire is sweeping through him, back and forth, like great waves washing over a ship’s deck in a storm. Not more than one-fourth of his brain was able to concentrate on anything besides the woman herself. Fortunately again, the heavy workman’s clothing he was wearing to fend off the December cold kept the half-erection from showing. He did manage, as casually as he could, to wipe his mouth with his hand. He was afraid there might be drool showing. He had no idea at all how a man went about courting an Americaness, but he was quite sure that starting off by acting the uncouth boor would not be helpful at all.

 

            “You still haven’t answered my question, Herr Engler,” she said, resuming her seat behind the desk. “What can we do for you? And would you please sit down?” She pointed at a chair behind him and a little to his left.

 

            A bit clumsily, Thorsten sat down. Clumsy, because three-quarters of his attention was elsewhere. Her fingers were gorgeous. He could imagine them—

 

            That way lay disaster. Hastily, he broke off the surging reverie and wracked his brain to think of something appropriate and intelligent to say.

 

            Informality. That little piece of the many legends got jostled loose and rose to the surface. Almost all of them agreed on that, too, so it was probably true.

 

            “Please, call me Thorsten.” That came out much more stiffly than he’d intended. But he was afraid to smile. His mouth open that far, drool was sure to come.

 

            “Thorsten it is, then. And please call me Caroline.” She leaned forward a bit and waved a finger at him, playing the scold. “But I warn you, sir! It’s ‘Caroline,’ not ‘Carol.’ Cross that line at your peril.”

 

            The same finger, alas. Was there any part of the woman that was plain, at least, since he couldn’t imagine anything actually ugly. Something he could focus on to keep from sliding into the behavior of a village idiot or—worse yet—a schoolboy.

 

            The best he could come up with was: “I would not dream of it. Caroline it shall always be.”

 

            He said it too intently. Too… roughly, almost. She would think he was coarse.

 

            And, indeed, the smile that seemed permanently fixed now faded some. And, suddenly, she had a different look in her eyes. But it didn’t seem to be one of irritation or revulsion. Simply…

 

            Startled, perhaps?

 

            Who could say, with an Americaness?

About Eric Flint

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