"It was a most electrifying speech, Your Grace," the Chancellor, Heinrich, Count Ostenburg replied. "No doubt there will be volunteers by the thousands queuing at the recruiting centers." He smiled. "The records will show that here is where Hetzenberg began to fight back against the unjust claims Dunkeldorf-Pfühl has on our lands!"
"You have doubts, Your Grace?" Heinrich asked, cocking his head.
"We are not prepared, Heinrich."
A new voice spoke up. "Neither is Dunkeldorf, Your Grace."
Karl turned to favour his cavalry brigade commander with a penetrating stare. "You are sure of that, General?"
General Küster clicked his heels and nodded. "I am, Your Grace. Word reached the Großartiger Armeerat late yesterday."
"Why wasn't I told? No word from our agents was expected before next week at the earliest."
"My apologies, Your Grace, but the hour was very late. We did not wish to disturb you. Our men learned all there was to know sooner than expected. They report none of the Dunkeldorfer regiments are up to strength. Their recruiting drive is lacklustre. Some attempt has been made to recruit mercenaries to make up the strength but the Margrave's pay offer is miserly. Few men are taking his coin, and those only the most desperate."
"Hmm!" Karl rubbed his hands. "Good. Then the winter remains for us to recruit, form new regiments and train them into fighting shape. How is your cavalry, General?"
"The Rumtopft are fighting fit as always, Your Grace. Count Nikolai's hussars need work, but there's no denying their spirit." He stroked his bristling blond moustache. "Something may be made of them yet."
Karl smiled and wagged a finger. "Please, General! Do not let Count Noamchomski hear you make such comments."
The General smiled back and bowed with another click of his heels. "The Count's predilection for duelling is well known to me, Your Grace. I shall take care."
"Just so." Karl glanced at the ormolu clock on the wall and addressed his Chancellor. "My brother is expected shortly. Make sure he's shown into the private wing as soon as he arrives."
"As you wish, Your Grace."
* * * * *
Wolfram von Hetzenberg, Bishop of Guggenheim walked unannounced into the private quarters of the Ducal Palace. As family, it was his right to do so. Had his will been different, the Palace itself would be his. But his life had taken a different path.
His younger brother emerged from the bedchamber with his valet still fussing at the exact drape of his cravat. Karl gestured for the man to be still and advanced, arms outstretched. "Wolfram!"
They embraced, Karl slapping his ecclesiastical brother heartily on the back before they separated. "Some claret, brother?"
Wolfram nodded and smiled acceptance. Taking the glass proffered by his brother he sat in one of the overstuffed chairs, sipped, and nodded approval. "A Doppeldorf, '28 vintage unless I miss my guess."
"Just so, Wolfram." Karl sat opposite, his legs outstretched, and drank deep of his own wine. With a smack of his lips he tilted the glass in salute. "You always did have a fine palate for wine.
"It has its uses." Fixing the Duke with a stern gaze Wolfram leaned forward and tapped his knee. "Now, brother! We meet in private; you greet me with hearty backslapping, and draw out your best vintage. What is it you want of me?"