The Duke gave his brother the Bishop an amiable smile. "What do I want?"
Wolfram sighed, as only an older brother can. "I know you too well, Karl. The bonhomie doesn't fool me."
"No; I can see that." Karl swirled the wine in his glass. "Forgive me for trying so lame an appearance of normality. Circumstances have been anything but lately." He met his brother's gaze. "I want your regiment."
Karl cocked his head. "You don't sound too surprised."
"I'm not." Wolfram leaned back in his chair. "The Duchy needs an army and my men are both trained and experienced. It's only natural that the Großartiger Armeerat should cast longing glances at my bodyguard."
"General Küster thinks highly of them."
"And so he should. He trained most of my officers. Under their command the regiment has performed sterling service for me and my predecessor."
"Indeed. Theirs is an envious record. So, will you give me your regiment?"
Wolfram fished his meerschaum pipe from his pocket and began to tamp it with tobacco. Karl smiled. "You know me, brother, and I know you." He gestured at the pipe. "You're playing for time."
"Indeed!" The valet lit a taper from the sealing-wax lamp burning on the bureau and offered it to him. Wolfram thanked the man and lit his pipe, puffing it into life with a few short intakes of breath. Satisfied it would stay lit he turned his attention to Karl. "I want something in return."
"Ah!" Karl rubbed his hands. "And so we begin. What do you wish?"
Wolfram took a deep lungful of tobacco smoke and released it in a long stream. Out of politeness he aimed it away from his brother. "I want official support for my refutation of the Convocation of Waldorf-Salle-Adse."
Karl winced. Wolfram knew his brother had admirable composure at the negotiating table but here in private he could let his feelings show – while still being a tough bargainer. "Difficult," Karl said. Wolfram shrugged. Karl pursed his lips. "You know since that wretched librarian found that equally wretched treatise by Archbishop Wölnutz the whole continent has been in uproar."
"Wölnutz on Waldorf-Salle-Adse." Wolfram nodded his face grim. "Oh yes, I know it well!"
"And you find it difficult to digest," Karl said sympathetically. "Unfortunately the Duchy cannot countenance anything as… ecumenical as support for your stance at this juncture." Wolfram opened his mouth to speak but Karl beat him to the punch. "I can offer the Abbey of St. Sinnlos."
Wolfram blinked, closed his mouth with a snap. "Hmm!"
"Don't say it isn't a tempting offer!" Karl signalled to the valet, who brought him a box of cigars and a lit taper. "Come, Wolfram! You've been hankering after that wretched place for years."
"It's not so wretched, Karl. St. Sinnlos is a valuable Abbey."
Karl's eyes twinkled. "And it has important voting rights in the Ducal Council!"
"There is that, of course." Wolfram furrowed his brow in thought. "With those votes added to my own, it would give me a great deal of power in the Council's deliberations."
"I'm aware of that." Karl waved his hand. The cigar left a thin trail of smoke in the air. "Wolfram, had you not declined your right to inherit father's title, you would be sitting here in my place with all that implies."
Wolfram looked at Karl. Karl gazed back as he lit his cigar. "You would seriously give me the one thing that could possibly trump a refutation?"
"You must need my bodyguard very badly."
"Brother, I can honestly say they could make the difference between survival of the Duchy or defeat at the hands of Dunkeldorf-Pfühl."
Wolfram puffed on his pipe. "Hmm. I'm the last man to display disloyalty to my nation."
"But if you want my men, I want the Abbey and two more things in return."
"The Bishop of Guggenheim's Regiment of Horse must be included in the Guard Cavalry Brigade."
"Agreed! They're elite troopers. It's only fair."
"And the Duchy shall pay their wages!"
Karl winced. "Agreed," he said after a pause and held out his hand. Wolfram took it and they shook. "I'll tell General Küster to set matters in hand. You'll inform your Oberst?"
"Yes. It's only fair." Wolfram took another deep lungful of smoke and exhaled it in a long sigh. "It's not something I'm looking forward to!"