1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 08
The miller stared at the piece of paper in Major Fruehauf’s hand. It was about twice the size of a U.S. dollar bill. The central portrait was that of a very attractive young woman holding aloft a torch in her right hand and carrying some sort of tablet in the crook of her left arm. The image was patterned after the up-time Statue of Liberty, although neither the major nor the miller was aware of that fact.
Nor were they aware of the one big difference with the statue, since neither of them had ever met Rebecca Abrabanel. And while the major had seen some of the scurrilous pamphlets circulated about her by rabid anti-Semites in previous years, the woodcut images of her contained in them had borne no relationship whatever to reality.
This image, on the other hand, was a pretty fair depiction of Rebecca. The artist who’d designed the woodcut was one of the soldiers attached to the printing press Mike had left behind. The soldier had met the general’s wife on two occasions, and had a good memory of her. That wasn’t surprising. He was a young man and Rebecca was generally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful women in Europe, even by her enemies. In fact, especially by her enemies. Terms like “temptress” and “succubus” were often connected to her. If you didn’t know any better and moved in those circles, you’d be certain that her middle name was Delilah.
Good-looking female image or not, the miller didn’t care. He’d never heard the expressions “you can’t judge a book by its cover” or “not worth a continental” but it didn’t matter. He was no damn fool.
“That’s not worth the paper it’s printed on,” he protested.
Fruehauf shook his head, his expression one of sorrow rather than anger. “How can you claim such a thing? It’s even traded on the currency exchanges in Grantville and Magdeburg. By now, probably in Venice and Amsterdam, too.”
“Not in Prague,” the miller said stoutly.
Fruehauf gave him the sort of look normally reserved for village idiots. “And if it were, would you trust it anymore? Correct me if I’m mistaken, but isn’t that exchange — and the stock market too, I hear — owned outright by Wallenstein?”
The miller looked even more unhappy. The major was slandering Wallenstein, actually. The king of Bohemia was only one of the partners in Prague’s stock exchange and currency exchange. Granted, the majority partner. But he was far too smart not to understand that fiddling with such institutions would, in the long run, simply undermine their value to him. They were run as honestly as the major exchanges in Europe. In fact, the Prague exchange would probably number among them within a year.
“It’s still just a piece of paper,” the miller complained.
“Are you really that rustic, Johann? Any kind of money is no better than the authority which backs it.”
They were speaking in German because the miller, like many of the town’s inhabitants, was of German rather than Czech stock.
“Not gold and silver!”
Fruehauf rolled his eyes. “Right. Assuming the king who issues the coin isn’t debasing it. And how often is that true?”
Johann said nothing. He really wasn’t that rustic. If you searched Europe high and low, you’d certainly find some coins that contained the gold and silver content they were supposed to have. But the big majority wouldn’t.
Fruehauf shoved the paper at him. “Look, just try it. General Stearns backs the beckies. He’s been accused of a lot of things, but never of being a thief or a swindler.”
Mike Stearns had something of a mythic reputation, in central Europe — as much so in Czech lands as German ones, given the critical role played by up-timers in Wallenstein’s rebellion against Austria and his subsequent stabilization of an independent Bohemian kingdom. That myth contained many ingredients, that varied widely from person to person. By no means all of them were positive. But the sort of chicanery involved in currency swindles was simply not part of the legendry, any more than it was part of the Arthurian cycles. That was true whether you were speaking of Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere — or Mordred and Morgan le Fay. Sins and faults aplenty in that crowd, but none of them were petty chiselers.
The major seized Johann’s wrist and more-or-less forced the becky into his hand. “Just give it a try,” he repeated. “You can either trade it yourself on the exchanges” — from the look on the miller’s face there was no chance of that happening — “or, what I personally recommend, is that you trade it back to the regiment to get whatever goods or services we can provide.”
“Which would be what?” the miller asked skeptically.
Fruehauf glanced around the mill house. “Don’t be stupid, Johann. I was born and raised in a village myself. Any mill house needs repair work — and I’ll bet you my good name against that becky in your hand that we’ve got carpenters and blacksmiths in the regiment that are at least as good as any in Tetschen.”
The carpenters and blacksmiths in the towns wouldn’t be happy to hear that, of course. But that was none of the miller’s concern and Fruehauf saw no reason to explain that the regiment would probably wind up trading the miller’s flour for the services of the area’s carpenters and blacksmiths. Who could say? They might even wind up being used to repair the miller’s equipment.
The secret of economics was ultimately simple. Just keep people working. The manner in which that was done didn’t really make a big difference. Having a regiment of twelve hundred men living in the area would inevitably stimulate the economy so long as everyone was convinced that peace and stability would be maintained and that the money being circulated was of good value.
The first had already been established. General Stearns had been shrewd in choosing the Hangman to leave behind. The story of the regiment’s origins and purpose had spread widely by now. Not least of all because the general’s printing presses had seen to it. And Colonel Higgins made sure that his men maintained good behavior in their relations with the townfolk.
Now, if they could just get the becky accepted…
“Well, all right,” said the miller. “But just this once! If I’m not satisfied, you won’t get any more flour from me.”
It was a sign of progress, Fruehauf thought, that the miller obviously wasn’t considering the fact that if it chose to do so, the Hangman Regiment could march into his mill house, seize all his flour — and, for that matter, burn it down and kill him and his family in the bargain. Whatever reservations the local inhabitants still had about Higgins and his soldiers, at least they were no longer considered bandits.