CONRAD'S QUEST FOR RUBBER
Book Six of The Adventures of Conrad Stargard
A Del Rey® Book
THE BALLANTINE PUBLISHING GROUP NEW YORK
From the Diary of Conrad Stargard
FEBRUARY 10, 1246
WE DESTROYED the Teutonic Order four years ago, and since then things have gone remarkably smoothly, especially when you compare them to the first ten years that I spent in this brutal century.
It wasn't easy to survive after I was accidentally shipped here from the twentieth century. I had to prepare Poland for an invasion by the Mongol Empire, and then I had to direct the war after we were invaded.
There were some tight spots, but we managed to win.
Now we are at peace. For the first time in a century, Poland is united, from the Baltic Sea to the Carpathian Mountains, and from the Odra River to the Pripet Marshes. What's more, it had all been done peacefully, voluntarily, and even eagerly, once the kings, dukes, and princes saw what my cannons could do. Furthermore, Poland, Ruthenia, Hungary, and Bulgaria have joined together to form the Federation of Christianity.
Our school system is being extended throughout Eastern Europe, as is our system of railroads, our uniform system of measurements, and our uniform coinage.
We've seen interesting times, but thank God they are over. I haven't had to kill anyone in over three years, and it feels good.
Sitting in my leather chair behind my nicely carved desk, I could see by the numbers before me that the factories were running at full capacity, the army was expanding at an optimal rate, and our concrete castle-building program was right on schedule.
As I sat patting myself on the back, a young woman, one I didn't recognize, walked into my office. She had huge green eyes, flaming red hair, and a full set of matching freckles. None of my wives, friends, or current servants had such stunning coloration.
Without saying a word, she stamped the snow from her felt boots, shook the melted drops from her heavy, fur-lined cloak, and hung it up on a wooden peg near the door.
'Excuse me? Should I know you?' I asked.
'Probably not, your grace, but we
'You are not being very helpful.'
'Your grace, I hope to be
'This must be somebody's idea of a joke,' I said. 'You have to be a prostitute hired by someone from accounting.'
'I am not a prostitute, and nobody hired me,' she said as she dropped her dress to the floor. She stepped naked out of it. She was obviously still in her early teens, but she had little of the baby fat that so many girls her age are afflicted with. Instead, she was blessed with the firm, trim body of an athletic woman of about five years older. Not to mention remarkably large, firm breasts. Or the dusting of freckles all over everything. I tried not to let my normal male reactions show, and was glad of the desk in front of me.
She hung the dress on another peg before continuing. 'In fact, I'm still a virgin, and people have told me that I am an attractive one.'
'Your face and body are more than adequate, but your character is very much in question,' I said as coldly as I could manage. 'I am not a teenage boy who becomes irrational at the sight of a few square yards of female skin. I want to know why you think you can get away with approaching me so boldly, and I want to know your name.'
My hopefully stern admonition had no apparent effect on the girl. She came around my desk and sat on my lap. She gave me an inexpert kiss, with her lips too hard.
'My lord, I have the right to be bold with you because you are my proper liege lord. You rescued me at a tender age from death, outlaws, and a winter blizzard. It is only proper that you should now enjoy the flower of my maidenhood.'
The whole situation had me stunned, flabbergasted, and thoroughly confused. Especially that last statement.
'I still don't understand. What is your name?'
She kissed me again in the same inexperienced fashion. Part of me wanted to explain to her the proper way of doing things, but most of me didn't want to change the subject.
'My name is the one you gave me when you christened me in a snowy woods. I'm Ignacy. You really
Later, I'd found a baby in the outlaw's camp. I christened it in case it didn't survive the rest of the wintry trip to shelter and brought it with me to Count Lambert's castle, here at Okoitz.
Only then did I find out that I had christened a girl with a boy's name.
'I remember now. I also recall that you were adopted into a peasant family, that your new father soon died, and that your stepmother then married a blacksmith.'
'Yes, your grace. She told me that his name was Ilya, and that Count Lambert had forced them to marry. They never did like each other, and she eventually ran away to Hungary with another blacksmith more to her liking.'
'Remember that I was there at the time. She was not actually forced to marry Ilya, although Lambert was generally too persuasive by half,' I said. 'None of which explains why you are sitting naked on my lap.'
'This is Okoitz, isn't it? And the custom here is for a maiden to be taken first by her lord, isn't it?' She kissed me yet again and managed to wiggle herself around such that she was straddling me as I sat upright in my chair. Her body and breasts were pressed tightly against me, and my resolve to treat this event as an annoyance was weakening.
'It was Lambert's custom to bounce every peasant girl within arm's reach, if that's what you are referring to. But Lambert has been dead for five years, and you are not a local peasant girl. You were raised in Hungary, judging from your accent. And thinking about it, I believe that you are legally still the daughter of Ilya the blacksmith, who has since become Baron Ilya. You and he are thus both members of the nobility, not the peasantry.'
I was wearing an old embroidered velvet outfit rather than one of my usual military uniforms. The almost annoying young lady was busily undoing the strings on my codpiece.
She said, 'You are trying to wiggle out of this on a legal technicality, and I won't have it! Ilya isn't my father. My father was the highwayman Sir Rheinburg, and you killed him!'
'If Sir Rheinburg was your father, and if he legally married your mother, then you are a member of the German nobility and not a peasant. However, it is by no means certain that he was your father. Rheinburg had two