Conrad's Quest for Rubber

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Conrad Stargard has come a long way since he was first transported from the twentieth century to the thirteenth. Thanks to his knack for "inventing" such astonishing things as steam engines, machine guns, radios, and riverboats, he's turned Medieval Poland into a military powerhouse—capable of repelling invasions by marauding Mongols and Teutonic troops ...
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Conrad Stargard has come a long way since he was first transported from the twentieth century to the thirteenth. Thanks to his knack for "inventing" such astonishing things as steam engines, machine guns, radios, and riverboats, he's turned Medieval Poland into a military powerhouse—capable of repelling invasions by marauding Mongols and Teutonic troops alike.

Now, with enemies vanquished, industry booming, and peace in the land, it is time to continue Poland's remarkable technological progress. And doing so requires harvesting raw materials only Lord Conrad knows where to "discover." Thus is founded the Explorer's Corps, whose intrepid members set out to map new frontiers from the Arctic Circle to the Amazon. But can even Conrad's knowledge of the far future prepare him and his subjects for what lies just beyond the borders of their kingdom?
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345368508
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/31/1998
  • Series: Adventures of Conrad Stargard Series , #6
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 292
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Leo Frankowski has held more than a hundred different jobs, ranging from scientist in an electro-optics research lab to gardener to chief engineer. Much of his work was in chemical, optical, and physical instrumentation, and earned him a number of U.S. patents.

He is active in MENSA, the Society for Creative Anachronism, and science fiction fandom. He is an officer in two writers clubs, and his hobbies include reading, drinking, chess, kite flying, dancing girls, and cooking.

A lifelong bachelor, he lives alone in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

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Read an Excerpt

From the Journal of Josip Sobieski


My name is Josip Sobieski. I find myself sitting in a cave just south of the Arctic Circle, with nothing to do for the next three months. In hindsight, this will doubtless seem a wonderful adventure, especially to someone who has never been here. Presently, I find it to be a deadly bore. To while away the hours, I have resolved to record the events of my life. I expect that future readers, if any, will find my experiences a fruitful example of what not to do with the only life God has given them.

In 1230, when I was five years old, my father became a baker at Count Lambert's castle town of Okoitz. Thus, I had the rare privilege of being personally on hand at the beginning of what was to become the most remarkable story of our age.

Lord Conrad came to our town on Christmas Eve, in 1231, although he was called Sir Conrad then. I first became aware of him when I saw him sitting at the high table during a feast. It would have been hard to miss him, since even seated he was a head taller than Count Lambert, who was himself a very big man.

He was the talk of the town, having fought and defeated the evil Sir Rheinburg and all his men, killing each with just a single blow. With the other boys, I watched while four suits of chain-mail armor were taken to the blacksmith's for repair, so we knew that every word of the story was true.

He was a strange man, much different from the other knights and noblemen who made life at Okoitz interesting. For one thing, he was always making something, either showing the men how to build the mills and factories that Okoitz soon becamefamous for, or carving some toy for the boys of the town, or sometimes even things for the girls. With his own hands he carved me a spinning top that, once you learned how to do it, would flip over and spin for a time upside down! I still have that toy and keep it as a treasure, although I've never been able to figure out exactly why it works.

For another, he took little pleasure in the usual knightly enjoyments. Once, when Sir Stefan brought in a bear, for baiting, Sir Conrad didn't even know what bearbaiting was. Once he found out, he was furious, calling the sport cruel. Rather than let the bear be torn apart by the castle dogs, he killed it himself, with a single stroke of his mighty blade, and he cried while he did it. And then he fought Sir Stefan over the matter, and I think he might have killed that knight had Count Lambert not intervened.

Sir Conrad didn't like cockfighting either, and soon the peasants at Okoitz stopped doing it, rather than risk offending him.

While all of the other adults considered small boys to be little more than nuisances, to be ignored at best and spanked at worst, Sir Conrad seemed to like us, to actually enjoy our company. He almost always had time to stop and explain things to us, to tell us some of the thousands of stories he knew, and to teach us our numbers.

Furthermore, he paid our priest, Father Thomas, to teach us to read and write, every weekday morning during the winter.

The fathers of most of the boys were peasants, farmers who had little to do during the winter, so having their boys in school was no hardship for them. My father was a baker, and bakers must work hard almost every day of the year. If they wish to take even Sunday off, they must work twice as hard on Saturday, or the people of the town would go hungry without bread. Even then, someone was needed at the bakery to keep the fires going, since most of the people brought their meals in a pot to our ovens for cooking.

This meant that my help was needed every day in my father's bakery, for children naturally help their parents at their work. My parents had six children, and my father felt that the boys, at least, should go to school.

My older brother and I felt guilty about sitting in school while the rest of the family had to work longer hours. We would have preferred working, but our father's word was law.

Every afternoon, when we all worked together after school, he always questioned us minutely about everything that was said in class. At the time, we thought that he did this to assure himself that we were not wasting the time spent there, but much later we realized that this was his method of absorbing the new learning for himself and for his wife and daughters. Since we boys were responsible for repeating to him every single word that was spoken in class, we did not dare be inattentive.

Both Father Thomas and Sir Conrad praised our diligence. They should have praised our father.

As interesting as Sir Conrad was, his horse received even more attention, from us boys, at least.

Anna was a huge animal, even bigger than Count Lambert's favorite charger. But while Whitefoot was dangerous to be near, ever eager to nip off an ear or to crush a rib cage, Anna was the most gentle of creatures, provided that you treated her politely.

Well, she kicked Iwo's father when he whipped her to get her back into her stall after Anna left it to relieve herself outside. Anna was very clean in her habits, and never soiled her stall.

He did not hit her hard, and with most animals of that size you have to hit them just to get their attention. With Anna, on the other hand, all you had to do was ask her, and she was happy to do just about anything for you. And to be fair, she didn't kick the man very hard, for he lived and was able to go back to work in a few days.

Later, when we asked her about the incident, she said that she had objected to being sworn at as much as being struck, and that in any event, it wasn't polite to interrupt a lady while she was attending to private matters.

You see, we boys soon discovered that Anna could understand the language perfectly, and although of course she couldn't speak it, she would nod or shake her head to answer yes or no to any question asked her. It sometimes required a lot of questions to get the whole story out of her, but that was generally our fault and not hers.

She was as intelligent as any of us boys, and we considered her to be much smarter than most of the grown-ups around.

Also, like her owner, Anna seemed to positively like children. I think that much of it was because grown-ups think they are much too busy to bother taking the time a conversation with Anna necessarily took, assuming all the while that they were among the minority who believed what we told them about her. We children were delighted that someone as big as her would take the time to fully answer us.

And, perhaps, we really did have more spare time than the older people did.

We soon learned that she was a good friend to have. Whenever a grown-up was spanking a child, or even shouting at one in public, Anna would walk over and stare at the adult doing the spanking or shouting. She never made a sound or actually did anything. She just stood close by and stared at them, and that was generally enough. Having this huge animal stare at you was very intimidating, and any urge to chastise the less fortunate soon evaporated.

We boys speculated that if someone tried to do actual harm to one of the children of the town, Anna's response would have been more active and indeed deadly. Since no one in memory had ever been that evil, we were never able to confirm our suspicions.

Still, we were glad she was there.

Some of the peasants complained to Count Lambert about this habit of hers, saying it was unholy, but Lambert just laughed at them. He said that everything with eyes has to look at something, and that "something" is usually the last thing that moved. If being looked at troubled the peasants, the cause of it must be their own guilty consciences. He said that they were well-advised to seek out the priest and go to confession!

In all events, my parents were never forced to endure Anna's staring, since to my memory they never had to severely chastise any of their children, and in turn, none of us ever wanted to displease them.

Simply put, they were good parents, and we were good children. I think this made us unusual.

At the time, our cheerful obedience seemed quite ordinary to my brother and sisters and me, and I occasionally questioned other friends of mine as to why they wanted to get into the various sorts of mischief they always seemed to be involved with. They could never satisfactorily explain their motivations to me, nor, in truth, could I explain mine to them. To anger my father seemed as silly to me as eating dirt. I simply had no desire to do such a thing.

Strange to say, one of the boys in the town, Iwo, actually did just that, once. He went into the bailey, sat down on the ground, and proceeded to eat dirt for no obvious or conceivable reason. His father was angry and spanked him. On this occasion, Anna was tardy in going over to stare. She was as mystified as the rest of us.

But my story is not about Iwo, and he came to a bad end, anyway. A few years later he ran away, and somebody eventually said that he was hung in Gniezno, although they didn't know why.

Sir Conrad left in the spring with Anna and some girls. (A boy of seven generally has little interest in girls, except, perhaps, for occasional target practice.) He went to build the city of Three Walls on the land that Count Lambert had given him, and we were all sad to see both of them leave. They returned for a few days almost every month, and over the years, Anna saved many a boy from the beatings that most of them undoubtedly deserved.

A different kind of beating happened during the first Christmas after Sir Conrad left us. I remember it clearly with all of my childish impressions still attached.

The story circulated that Sir Conrad found a caravan bound for Constantinople that was owned and guarded by the Teutonic Knights of the Cross. He found a gross of pagan children that the Crossmen were planning to sell to Jews and Moslems, who must have been terrible people, we imagined, although we had never met one. We children understood that something bad would then happen to the young slaves, but no one would tell us exactly what that bad thing was.

Conrad beat up the Crossmen guarding the caravan and saved the children, because he was a hero. Then he took them back to his city, gave them to good families, taught them how to speak, and made them into good Christians, people said.

The Crossmen didn't like him doing all this, so they came to Okoitz, a thousand of them, and Sir Conrad came here, too, for a trial by combat. It seemed to me that everybody else in the world came as well, and all of them needed bread to eat, so we bakers hardly had time to sleep at all. Whenever I looked outside the bakery, which wasn't very often, all I could see was that everything was packed solid with people. My whole family had to sleep in the bakery, since Count Lambert had lent our house out to a bunch of other people we didn't even know.

There was a kind of festival going on then at Okoitz, not that I got to see much of it. But when the trial by combat between Sir Conrad and the bad guy happened, well, my father made sure we closed the bakery in time for all of us to go and see it.

Sir Conrad and Anna beat up the bad guy and chopped his head off. They chopped his horse's head off, too, because it was crippled.

Then a bunch of the other Crossmen went out to kill Sir Conrad, when that wasn't allowed, and God made a miracle happen! Golden arrows came down from the sky and killed every one of them in the heart! I was there and I saw it myself, and so did two bishops and the duke and everybody else.

They say that after that, nobody ever tried to bother Sir Conrad again. No Christians, anyway.

The town of Okoitz was constantly changing, all through my childhood. From the time we first got there, when our town was nothing at all except a clearing at the side of the road that went from the Vistula to the Odra, something was always being constructed.

My father's bakery was almost the first thing built, since people need to eat before anything else can happen. Then the outer wall was built, with the houses and stables each side by side against it, and the blockhouses at the four corners. Then the church and Lambert's castle went up, and most people seemed to be happy with the thought that the job was finally done.

That was when Sir Conrad arrived, and all the men of the town were soon out chopping down trees with which to build a huge windmill, the likes of which no one but Sir Conrad had ever seen. A big cloth factory went up, and a lot of girls came to work there, and then they made a second huge windmill, until everyone said that if they kept on building, there wouldn't be any room left in the town for the people!

But soon they started on Lambert's new castle, which when completed turned out to be three times bigger than the whole rest of the town, and much taller, besides, so they had to make it outside of the walls themselves. It was four years in the making, and long before it was done, my family and even the bakery was moved inside it.

All of this civic growth was good for my father's business. He was forced to take on apprentices and even journeymen from outside of our family to satisfy the needs of his growing number of customers.

When a second baker came to town with Count Lambert's permission, my father wasn't worried about the competition, but instead they immediately formed a guild in the manner of the big city guilds, to do proper charity work and see to it that there was employment and plenty for all.

With father now a guildmaster, our family prospered. My sisters began to receive substantial dowries when they were married. My brother and I soon realized that one day there would be a considerable inheritance for us and a respected place in the community. He liked the thought of all this, but I was of mixed mind about it.

Oh, I was pleased that my family prospered, but it was obvious that to do well, a baker had to stay in one place. All of my life, the interesting people I saw and occasionally was able to meet were those who traveled, who went to strange places and saw strange things. I heard magic, faraway names like Cracow and Paris and Sandomierz, and I wanted to see these mystical places. I yearned to go with those far travelers, to join with the caravans of merchants, soldiers, and priests who were always coming and going from our gates.

I wanted adventure.

And my father, whom I loved and wanted to obey, would not even discuss the matter. We were bakers, we always had been bakers, and we would always be bakers. Nothing more could be said.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2001

    Please continue the Series

    The travails of the Cross Time Engineer are like watching a movie you really enjoy a see again and agian. I have read and reread the entire series munerous time and still find significant enjoyment with each read. I highly recommend that anyone who enjoys following an excellent character based stories acquire the entire series.

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