Gutenberg's Apprentice

Read Gutenberg's Apprentice for Free Online

Book: Read Gutenberg's Apprentice for Free Online
Authors: Alix Christie
Tags: Biographical, Fiction, Historical
doubtless too—was posted with a man from the archbishop’s guard. They eyed him coldly as he hurried past. The little stair was crumbling; the wall was in sore need of repair. Once there had been a dozen constables patrolling in rotation, shoring up the city’s main defense.
    A streak of yellow like ripe flax began to tip the eastern hills. He stood chest-high against the battlement, surveyed the river and the farther bank, the faint trace of the road that led to Frankfurt. A snail’s track from this distance, it was deadly nonetheless: infested with the desperate and thieving, men who did not pause to ask your name before they emptied out your innards. Even when they could set out, the merchants moved in guarded convoys. They’d heard about, or seen themselves, the Dutchman who’d refused to pay, whose hands and head were staked out at the junction, one leg set toward Trier, the other one toward Worms.
    Behind Peter to the west were roads that led to Luxembourg and Burgundy and France—but these too were now barred. The whole archdiocese was shut to any man of Mainz until the city scraped up the interest for the Elders and their bankers. The facts of the dispute were plain and brutal. For centuries the ruling class had run the city like their private bank. They’d lent the council sums they then repaid themselves at crushing rates of interest. These bonds they then bequeathed to their own spawn, in perpetuity. Thus was the city fated to insolvency, like half of the free cities in the Reich. Each time the treasury was bare, Archbishop Dietrich would step in, prop up that rotting edifice, enact some other tax that only workingmen and merchants had to bear. But not this time—the riffraff claimed to rule. So cry away, the Elders sneered; there’s no one else to blame. The council was to pay the debt, or else dissolve. Dietrich proposed to pay the loans if Mainz would hand him back the reins. His message was plain: stay in your place.
    A wedge of starlings flashed above the muddy bank below, empty now of ships that once had jostled in a floating herd. How hollow the world seemed without the hoarse cries of the boatmen and the creaking of the cranes. A solitary man picked his slow way along the shore, and Peter pictured the lone figures stealing in at night, those priests that Grede had told him of from distant parishes who’d bless an infant, say a hurried prayer, or even ferry off a corpse for Christian burial for those few families with sufficient gold. The devil take the archbishop, Peter thought fiercely. Every citizen of Mainz was trapped, including him. He turned and started down.
    How he had scoffed at them—his father and his uncle, with their impotence and fury. His uncle, Jakob, most of all: the Brudermeister of the goldsmiths’ guild, who in Peter’s absence had been voted to the city council. How could a man waste his whole life in futile stewing? Better to carve out a life of the mind far from this dried-up husk. Fury rose and strangled Peter anew, to find himself once more a hostage to their endless wrangling.
    The feud in Mainz was ancient, and perhaps eternal: between the man who makes things— homo faber —and the man who trades what others make to his advantage. Mankind was greedy, grasping, Peter thought: it went straight back to Cain and Abel. In the archdiocese of Mainz, this conflict had destroyed the peace for all their lives. That first day the old smith thrust an apron and a glove at him, both stiff as armor plate. “I made the fire. You’ll make it from now on.” Hans Dünne looked skeptically at Peter’s slender wrists. “Let’s hope to God you can.”
    “Fust swears he took the teat right at the fire.” Gutenberg came toward them, lacing his own apron. “Though I would wager it has been a while.”
    “It isn’t something you forget,” said Peter.
    “I’ll be the judge of that. Let’s see those hands.” The master took each by the wrist and turned them. Peter’s right

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