Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 33
After King Emeric of Hungary’s reverses in the attack on Corfu, and the devastating losses of their retreat across the Balkans, he had had little appetite for campaigning. But if he was to repair his armies and keep his tax base intact, he had to take action against the upheavals that followed.
He used a restive province to cow the others and demonstrate the penalties for rebellion. He brought overwhelming force to bear and left behind in village squares some pointed reminders of what could happen to those who displeased him. Sharp reminders, with people impaled on them. He’d also found that an effective way of getting the message across. True, a lot of the peasantry had fled, and it would be some time before the province started to yield dividends again. But a king could not be expected to hunt down every peasant.
So, he was in a buoyant mood, joking with his commanders as he rode back toward the royal castle at Buda, at the head of a column of his invincible Magyar heavy cavalry.
The messenger who arrived was relieved to find him so cheerful. King Emeric had a habit of executing messengers who brought him news that he did not wish to hear. And even the stupidest messenger would know that the king was not going to enjoy this piece of news.
By the shift in expression on the king’s face, from laughter to a narrow eyed stare, Emeric had read the messenger’s expression too. “Well? Spit it out. What is wrong, you fool?”
“Your Majesty, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news…”
“Your face told me that already,” snapped Emeric. “Now what is it?”
“Your Majesty, it would appear that Prince Vlad of Valahia has escaped from his quarters.”
Emeric pursed his lips, and sat still a while in the saddle, in thought. Then he said: “I imagine you would not have brought me this news if he had been recaptured. How did he escape?”
“It would appear that he had outside help, Your Majesty. The guards were all murdered. None of them appear to have even tried to defend themselves. Three were stabbed, and another four appear to have been poisoned. Some of them died in what appears to have been extreme pain. We must conclude that some form of treachery or magical means were used.”
“Spare me your conclusions,” said Emeric. “Tell me instead what measures have been taken to recapture him. I think it is time that I dealt with the Vlachs for once and for all. Having a suitable hostage has kept them from being too restive, but with Vlad’s father now dead, I had wondered what steps to take next. It would appear that the matter has been taken out of my hands.”
“Your Majesty, we have sealed all the roads going east. Patrols are scouring the countryside between the roads. We have taken in several suspects known to have Vlachs sympathies. They are being put to the question.”
“Well, at least they were measures not entirely devoid of sense. Although inadequate. You need to send a message to my aunt, the Duchess Bartholdy. Also, I will need reinforcements sent to our garrisons at Irongate, Poienari, Beszterce, and Caedonia. They are to seize the Dowager Princess and her daughter and have them conveyed to my court. Once news of this leaks out, we will have unrest in the Duchy of Valahia. Have my secretary write the orders for you, and bring them to me for my signature and seal. You may carry them back to the castle immediately. Baron Arbalar will take the appropriate measures from there.”
The messenger bowed. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
He was too relieved at keeping his head to even dream of protesting that he had just ridden for ten hours, and that he and his horse were in no state to ride directly back to the castle. He could always get a new horse somewhere. He had used up four remounts so far. And being too sore to stand tomorrow was better than sitting on a sharpened stake now.
However, by the time that Emeric’s secretary had finished scribing the letters and the tired messenger took them to the king for signature and his seal, Emeric had changed his mind. “I think instead,” he said tearing up the neatly penned letter, “that I had better go and speak to Elizabeth myself. You will proceed back to Buda, and pass on my orders there. I will take part of my column to go north to visit the countess.”
The messenger was relieved, again, that the king would be going north and not him. One did not work in Emeric’s court for as long as he had without becoming very wary about the stunningly beautiful Duchess Bartholdy. There were certain unpleasant rumors about her seemingly eternal youthfulness. Emeric’s court was always awash with rumors, but the ones concerning Elizabeth were unusually persistent.
That might just be a pipe blown by jealousy, of course. She was truly beautiful. But the messenger had no desire to find out if they were true or not.
Emeric had plenty of time on the three day ride to Elizabeth’s castle in the northern Carpathians to think about the situation that Vlad’s escape created for him in Valahia. There were complexities involved, and considerable potential both for exploitation and disaster. The area to the west of the Carpathian mountains was fertile and valuable. There were a number of settlers there from other parts of his territory. They at least would be loyal. And it was country that was suited to his kind of military operation. But the area inside the arms of the mountains themselves was almost entirely loyal to the house of Valahia, with the exception of the Székely seats. It was also not a good area in which to try military conclusions with an army like his, so dependent on heavy cavalry.
Perhaps it was time that he threw his weight behind the Danesti — a rival and related clan. One never knew if they would prove any better, unfortunately. However, no matter how good a refuge the Besarab had in the mountains, they needed the flatter lands to sustain themselves. The mountains were dirt poor. All very well for producing a few sheeps’ milk cheeses, but not much good for outfitting a troop of cavalry.
It would appear that someone had half crippled her pet dwarf, Emeric noticed, when he was shown in to the duchess’s presence by a limping Ficzko. That would not improve her humor. He was a horrible little man, but he had been in her service — in more ways than one, Emeric suspected — for many years.
In private, Elizabeth showed the king of Hungary none of the respect that she would accord him at court in Buda. “Well, Emeric?” she said impatiently. “I am rather busy at the moment. What is the problem, this time?”