1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 13
Cologne, Hatzfeldt House
“You could move your regiments here by way of Trier!” Bishop Franz was almost shouting at Melchior, and obviously far from his usually calm self.
“No, dear brother, I could not.” Melchior went to put his hand on Franz shoulder trying to calm him down, but Franz shook it off and went to stare out the window at the masons building the framework for the new stable wall.
“I’ve told you before,” Melchior continued, “that unless I had permission from every ruler along the way — starting with Bavaria or Bohemia both of which are equally unlikely at the moment — I would be fighting a new army every time I crossed a river or a mountain pass. Usually small armies, true, but even if I had a direct order from The Holy Roman Emperor, I would still try to talk my way out of it.” Melchior took a walked to stand beside his brother and put an arm around the shorter man’s shoulder. “I cannot do what you want, my dear brother,” Melchior smiled, “but then you never did have the slightest understanding of military matters. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on? You know I want to help you regain your winegrowing kingdom on the river Main, but why do you insist on trying to do so by fighting, when all that you have ever achieved has been gained through negotiations. You are acting totally out of character, and none of us understand it.”
Franz turned to his brother and opened his mouth — then shook his head and walked out the room slamming the door behind him.
Cologne, Beguine of Mercy
The market stalls were closing down, but a fair number of people were still standing around talking. Not, Charlotte noted, the usual gossiping housewives, who had gone late for the market looking for bargains at the end of the day, but men from all set of life standing around with serious and slightly worried expressions talking in low voices that fell silent as Charlotte came near.
Well, Charlotte was worried too. Worried about the fate of the child frequently kicking in her womb; worried about the lives of General Merode and his men fighting as well the army of Essen as the Hessians moving in from the East; worried that her brother had once again been delayed; but most of all worried about the letters from Archbishop Ferdinand in Bonn getting more and more insistent that she should seek his protection and place herself and her unborn child under his authority. She had not intended to even let the archbishop know that she and Elizabeth had taken refuge in the Beguine of Mercy in Cologne, but her stupid sister had written to the man, when Charlotte didn’t, and since then he had kept pestering her to come to Bonn, He had even gone so far as sending that disgusting lackey of his, Felix Gruyard, whom Maxie had told her was actually a torturer from Lorraine.
Maxie had come to visit her twice at the Beguine, and Charlotte was becoming more and more impressed with the sheer number of people Maxie knew, and the amount of information they brought her. Charlotte had rarely left the Beguine since her arrival, not just because her growing belly made it difficult for her to get around, but also because she didn’t want anybody to recognize her. Hopefully Friedrich — or at least one of her uncles — would come soon in response to her letters. She felt vulnerable in the Beguine knowing that both De Geer of Essen and Wilhelm of Hesse-Kassel now had armies in Berg and certainly would have agents searching Cologne for her and her unborn child.
Today, however, Elizabeth’s nagging and fretting had been driving her up the walls, and after the evening meal Charlotte had covered her face with a veil, quietly slipped out, and headed for Hatzfeldt House to spend an hour with Maxie before the Beguine closed its doors at sunset. Unfortunately Maxie had left Cologne to visit her brother in Bonn, and was not expected back until late tonight, so instead Charlotte had walked slowly around the market until they started to close down.
Heading back towards the Beguine Charlotte was startled to see the cadaverous shape of Felix Gruyard, the archbishop’s messenger and torturer, talking with two men on the street across from the Beguine, and she made a quick turn to head for the side door, only to feel her thin leather shoe slip on the uneven cobbles. Curling her arms around her belly to protect her child as she fell, Charlotte felt a strong grip on her dress and shoulder pull her back upright again, and she looked up to see the man she had just passed smiling down at her.
“I do not see your maid, Milady. May I be of any assistance to you?”
Charlotte made a quick glance over her shoulder to where Gruyard was still talking, then looked back at her rescuer, and nodded. She couldn’t see much more of his face than a rather ragged red goatee beneath the broad-brimmed hat, but his language assured her that he was well educated, and his clothes were new and in a cut that allowed easy movements and reminded her of General Merode.
“Yes, please. I had left the Beguine for a brief visit to a friend, but I seem to have become more fatigued than I had realized. If you’d be as kind as to lend me your arm across these uneven cobbles?”
“Certainly.” The man turned around and held out his arm, obviously intending to take her to the main door.
“To the side door, please. It is down that street. It would be much closer to my room.” Going that way would also keep the man between her and Gruyard. She really didn’t like that man.
The walk to the door was brief, and Charlotte didn’t feel like talking, but it felt nice and calming just walking with the strong arm to lean on. The man beside her smelled faintly of lavender and horses. He was probably an officer of some kind, and she briefly considered asking for his name. No. That meant that she would have to give her own, and she wanted as few people as possible to realize where she was.
At the door she said a polite goodbye, and slipped unseen back to her room. The walk seemed to have calmed her mind as much as she had hoped a talk with Maxie to do, and it now seemed possible to write a few letters before going to sleep.
* * *
An hour or so later Charlotte was just pressing her seal into the warm wax on the final letter when the door to her room was opened without a knock.
“The archbishop bids you come to Bonn.”
“What!” Charlotte looked up startled from the letter she had been writing. The Beguine would have closed its door for the night by now, and she had expected the person entering the room to be her sister, Elisabeth, but instead Felix Gruyard stood in front of her. She had thought him a most unpleasant person ever since he had first come to speak with her husband, but now just facing those cold, unwavering eyes for some reason frightened her out of her wits.
“I’m sorry, Master Gruyard. Did you come to bring me a letter?” Charlotte had barely managed to pull herself together when a scream from another part of the building made her jump up from the chair and turn run toward the door leading to the inner courtyard.
“No. You will come with me.” Gruyard grabbed her arm.
“But what is happening? My sister, Elisabeth? The other women?” There were now several voices screaming and shouting.
“That does not concern you.” The flat voice showed no sign of human emotions, only a total concentration on his task. He pulled Charlotte out of the room, and past what looked like soldiers standing in the hall with drawn swords. Outside the main door a carriage drawn by four horses was standing with two more soldiers beside it, and Charlotte was bundled inside before she could formulate a protest. Gruyard entered after her, and the carriage went off with a speed quite unsuited to the cobbled streets it was travelling over.
Cologne, Hatzfeldt House
“Good morning, Simon.” Melchior took the reins his courier extended towards him and looked towards the sun not yet visible above the roofs. “It’ll be hot today.”
“Yes, sir. Do you want to cross the river and take the forest roads? I can go get the rest of the troop waiting by the eastern gate and we’ll meet you by the ferry. We might have to wake up the ferryman though.” Simon sounded much too fresh and eager for this time of the morning, and his boyish enthusiasm made Melchior feel old — especially now after a very late and rather emotional night.
“No, that’ll be too slow. We’ll stop at The Black Goat on the other side of Bonn for the warmest hours, and then try to get as close to Koblenz as possible before stopping for the night.”
Melchior swung into the saddle just as Father Johannes came out the door still yawning and rubbing the last sleep from his eyes.
“I wish you a safe and pleasant journey, and success in your endeavor.” Father Johannes gave a slight bow.
“Thank you.” Melchior smiled down at the man he had so quickly come to consider one of his best friends. “And thanks also for your attempt at inserting a little sanity in the discussion last night, Father Johannes. I got a little heated after dinner. My brother, Franz, used to be a most rational and level-headed man, but now …”
“I find all four of you — and your sister as well — to be both competent and calm, but I do believe the Prince-Bishop is what the Americans call ‘caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea,’ and that must be a most unsettling place to be.”
Melchior gave a grunt. The two years that Father Johannes had spent in Grantville teaching and reading as many of their myriad of books as possible had given the man a taste for using these odd, but very vivid expressions.
“After you had retired for the night, Maxie remembered yet another person whom you might contact in Munich, and went to write a letter of introduction. Did you find it this morning?”
“Yes, but I have a nasty suspicion that reason is not going to carry the day. If Maxie cannot talk Archbishop Ferdinand into changing his plans, it’s unlikely that anything short of overwhelming force is going to. But on a totally different subject: I was wondering if you would be willing to do an errand for me, Father Johannes?”
“Yesterday I escorted a quite pregnant young woman to the Beguine of Mercy. She didn’t give her name, and the veil keeping the dust off her face made it impossible for me to see her clearly, but there cannot be that many pregnant women staying there. The servant bringing me my shaving water this morning mentioned a disturbance last night in that part of town, and I would like for someone to see if she is in any kind of distress.”
“I’ll make a detour on my own errands this morning,” Father Johannes gave a little grin, “and should I try to discover if she might be a widow?”
“Never mind that, Father Johannes, and fare thee well.”
As Melchior and Simon let their horses amble slowly over the cobbles, Melchior noticed Simon sneaking peeks at him, as if gauging his mood. Lieutenant Simon Pettenburg was a rather bright young man, and one of the most promising officers Melchior had trained, so he caught Simon eyes and raised an enquiring eyebrow.
“It is said that in China the wish “May You Live in Interesting Times” is considered a most powerful curse.” Simon had obviously decided to ask his question in a roundabout way.
“I’ve heard that too.”
“And you visiting old friends all around the area — that was at least partly to see if anything interesting was going on?”
“Yes. And unless you are a lot more stupid than I think you are, you must have realized that I was gathering a report on the military situation around Cologne for the Emperor.”
Simon nodded. “And the archbishop seems likely to make things very interesting indeed? And also for your brother, the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, so you have to do something about it? Only your brother wants you to fight for him to get him Würzburg back, and that wouldn’t be wise?”
Melchior nodded. Simon’s boyish looks hid a sharp mind, and those big blue eyes saw more than most men twice his age could manage.
“There were men from the mercenaries Archbishop Ferdinand has stationed at Bonn visiting Cologne last night. Not just for a lark, but doing something with the archbishop’s Lorranian torturer, Gruyard. I don’t know what.” Simon finally volunteered the information he had been leading up to, just as they came into sight of the rest of the troop, so Melchior just said: thank you. Whatever the archbishop was up to, the best Melchior could do was getting those letters to Munich and Vienna, and hope someone there would and could rein in Archbishop Ferdinand.