Saturday, 28 February 2009


"What on Earth is that?" Philip exclaimed.

"Someone's in a rush," Ursula replied, helping Horatio to don his cloak.

"We'd better go and see," he said, wiping his face with a kerchief.

The friends walked across the dewy grass toward the gate, but Colonel Sleibnitz and his party were just ahead of them, some soldierly instinct awakened by the sound of hooves. The physician was trying to complete the dressing of the Colonel's wound but was waved off in peremptory fashion.

When they reached the gates whoever was riding the horses had passed, leaving the early-rising denizens of Kimmelsbrücke full of excited curiosity in their wake. Colonel Sleibnitz's driver was waiting impatiently by his horses. "What's amiss, fellow?" Sleibnitz called. "Who were those riders?"

The friends overheard the driver's reply. "They were couriers from the Rumtopft Dragoons, sir. They didn't stop but they were bound for the barracks."

"Then let us go thence." Sleibnitz turned and gave Philip and Ursula a cold correct bow. "It seems some kind of emergency has arisen, Excellencies. I thank you for your attendance this morning, but if you'll excuse me I shall have to be about my duties."

"Of course, Colonel," Philip replied and Sleibnitz and his party climbed aboard his coach.

As it rattled away Philip frowned after him and turned to the others. "If some crisis has arisen then we should return to the palace forthwith. A courier riding with such haste bodes ill." He managed a smile for Mary Amadeus. "I think we'd better see if the tailor can attend to you early this morning. It's seems likely to be a busy day."

"I'd like that," she replied, looking up into his face with calm content.

Ursula winked at Horatio and he grinned back.
* * *
Paul Ehrgeiziger was strolling out of the barrack gates when two cavalry couriers in light blue uniforms pounded up the road, their mounts flecked with foam. He stepped back to let them pass, as did the sentries when the couriers shouted for immediate access. They slowed up as they disappeared through the gate and Paul stared after them, wondering what was afoot. The sentries resumed their phlegmatic stance, their eyes watching him. He briefly considered returning to his quarters in order to discover what the emergency was, but decided it could wait.

It's funny, but a lot of things seem less important now, he mused as he resumed his walk into the town. I feel so tired, not just because of the pain from this wound. Even this business with Hölzerner-Kopf is merely tiresome, a formality to be endured. I shall see what the fellow wants, in any case. His presence here at such a time does not bode well; but I really don't think I care any more.

He made his way through the awakening town to Koenig Street and the chambers rented by the doctor at the Swan inn. A maid showed him up to the sitting room and Paul kicked his heels for ten minutes until Hölzerner-Kopf deigned to appear from the room next door.

The Doctor was in a good mood from all appearances, removing a food-spotted napkin from around his neck as an afterthought calculated to show Paul exactly where he stood in his fellow agent's estimation. They shook hands without any real warmth, discussed the weather briefly, and Paul was wondering when the infuriating man would get to business when the tocsin began to ring from the town's belfries.

"You hear that, of course; the warning bells." Hölzerner-Kopf smiled as he poured two glasses of wine from a carafe. "It signifies all must be going well in our plans."

"Our plans?"

"Of course since your unfortunate capture you've been out of the loop." Hölzerner-Kopf handed Paul a glass and leaned back in his chair with a contented smile. "Then you should know that in the early hours of this morning our army was ferried across the Eisenwasser by means of pontoons constructed in secret up in the hills. I should say your earlier activities in clearing those woods of that pestilential bandit were of the highest use to the realm." He raised his glass in toast but his eyes glittered with contempt. "I thank you in the Margraf's name!"

Paul sat feeling stunned. Maybe I'm not so blasé about matters after all! "Our army is across the Eisenwasser?"

"Yes." Hölzerner-Kopf consulted his fob watch then stuffed it back in his weskit pocket. "At least the first regiments should be across and holding a bridgehead some fifteen miles below the town. When the rest is across they will have a wide area in which to maneuver before these clodhopping Hetzenbergers have woken up. With luck they will sweep the 'Bergers from the field and take this town within the week."

"What a remarkable turn of events!" Paul managed to say, feeling a sense of unreality.

"Indeed." Hölzerner-Kopf sipped more wine then set his glass aside. "I shall turn now to your part in this plan, Herr Baron."

Paul frowned. "My part? I am on parole, remember."

Hölzerner-Kopf brushed his objection aside. "That is of no consequence. You're an intelligence agent, not a soldier."

"What am I required to do, then?" Paul asked, narrowing his eyes.

"We have engaged an assassin to kill Reich Duke Wilhelm during his visit to Hetzenberg. The scandal of his demise whilst enjoying Hetzenberg hospitality will be a shattering blow to the reputation of Grand Duke Karl; one that will leave his entire realm off-balance, thus rendering it easier for us to achieve our aim."

This fool is serious! Paul thought, his skin crawling. But Hölzerner-Kopf was looking to the connecting door to the rest of his suite. "You may come in now, Kapitän!"

The door opened and there stood Kapitän Schwingen. Paul stared at him as he lumbered into the room. The former bandit's face, once good looking was now ravaged by the marks of torture. He moved with care, as if he was suffering some pain, a phenomena Paul knew all too well. "This is our assassin," Hölzerner-Kopf said in a cheerful voice. "I believe you know each other?"

"Of course," Paul said. Schwingen glared back, silent, his eyes full of hate.

"Of course you do. It was you who arrested him, was it not?" Hölzerner-Kopf reached up and patted Schwingen's arm. Paul noticed how the man flinched at the touch. "I took him into my care and made him see the sense of co-operating with us," Hölzerner-Kopf said and pointed to a corner. "Stand there and wait, Kapitän."

Schwingen moved awkwardly as he did as he was told and Paul felt revulsion at how the man's spirit had been broken.

Hölzerner-Kopf was all business, now. "Herr Baron, you and this gentleman are to travel with utmost dispatch to the Hetzenberg capital, there to carry out the assassination at a time best suited to the circumstances you encounter. Kapitän Schwingen has been promised a free and all-encompassing pardon should he succeed in his task. You, of course, will be sure to receive a just reward for your efforts in overseeing his work." His eyelid fluttered briefly. "This task is to begin immediately. Communicate with us in the usual way once completed. I shall be with the army in the field from now on." He rose to his feet and held out his hand. "Good luck – to you both!"

Paul stood and clasped Hölzerner-Kopf's hand, feeling sick to his stomach as he did so. Kapitän Schwingen stood silent in the corner, his head lowered, but Paul could feel his gaze boring into him.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Duel at dawn.

The first flush of dawn was lightening the sky when Horatio and Graf Philip emerged from the side gate in the palace walls. Philip carried the long box containing the dueling swords under his arm. They had barely gone a few strides on the cobbled road that wound down the hillside before the sound of hurrying feet came from behind. Turning, they saw Ursula and Mary Amadeus hastening across the courtyard, swathed in cloaks and wearing tricorn hats. "Wait for us!" Ursula called.

"What are you doing up so early?" Horatio exclaimed as they came up.

"I could ask the same of you!" Ursula said with a smile. "Do you think I could let you fight for my honor and not be there to support you?"

"I appreciate it."

Horatio glanced at Philip but he was standing close to Mary Amadeus in the pool of light shed by the lanterns atop the gateposts. They made an odd couple, the Graf tall and slim, Mary Amadeus short and plump. But there was no denying the ardent expressions on their faces. Much like the ones on Ursula and mine, in fact. This is going to be interesting! He thought, returning Ursula's smile.

They walked arm in arm down the hillside, Ursula and Horatio leading, their feet clattering on the cobbles. An air frost had colored the rooftops and higher walls sugary white and their breath steamed in the cool pre-dawn air.

"How are you feeling?" Ursula asked anxiously.

"I'm well enough to fence."

"Your wound isn't troubling you?"

"No; I heal like a young dog. And in my profession an early start to the day happens more often than not. I'll be fine, dearest."

"I'm glad to hear it. Which weapons are you using?"


She shot him a look of surprise. "Really?"

He gave her a wry smile and squeezed her hand. "What, you were expecting cutlasses?"

"I was, in a way."

"We're not all horny-handed sons of the sea by birth, Ursula. I did receive an education in swordsmanship." He shrugged. "True, there's little room for finesse on a deck in the middle of combat. There it is a case of hack and slash, as you well know. I admired your fighting prowess when Acheron was boarded. You're quite the spitfire!"

"Thank you!"

"But in affairs of honor the old skills come into play."

"I wish that idiot Sleibnitz had minded his own business!" she grumbled. "The patronizing ninny!"

"There's no accounting for some folks' attitude." He looked at her, unwilling to broach what had been on his mind from the moment of the challenge. "The duel is to first blood. If I should lose, I'll be expected to withdraw from your life."

"I won't permit that!" she snapped. "I will determine who my friends shall be, and not some popinjay of a colonel!"

"You may not be allowed to determine that."

"Allowed doesn't come into it, Horatio!" She stopped, forcing him to halt also, and she stared at him as she clasped his hands. "You forget why the von Hetzenberg family got to the top of the social heap. I'm descended from people who were generally nastier and greedier than most. It goes right back to Duke Wilhelm the Bold, one of the most aggressive warriors of his day. When I say I shall determine who my friends are, I will have my way!"

"Looking at you now, I can well believe so," he said quietly.


They stared at each other. Horatio could see the heightened color in Ursula's face and realized the dawn was growing. A church clock struck the half hour. "Now that's settled, we should be on our way, dear," he said. "The hour of the duel draws nigh."

"It wouldn't do to be late," she said. "I'm looking forward to this!"

"You bloodthirsty wench!"

"It comes with the bloodline," she retorted, but smiled.
* * *
They came to the lower town and walked through streets just starting to bustle with activity as people prepared for the day. Dueling was not unheard of in Hetzenberg and they drew only a few curious glances on the way to the park. When they arrived, the gates were open and a small carriage stood on the gravel some yards inside. The coachman was tending to the horses, his figure swathed in a bulky cloak. Horatio saw Baron Zögernsie standing under a lantern not far away, similarly attired, stamping his feet to keep warm.

Philip touched his arm. "I'll go ahead and speak with this fellow."

He hastened ahead, leaving Mary Amadeus with Horatio and Ursula. "Philip tells me he's arranged for me to have a uniform fitting this morning," Mary told them. He face was pink with pleasure. "I do wish this horrid duel wasn't spoiling things, Horatio."

"You and me both," Ursula replied.

"We'll be done in no time," he replied shortly. Now the prospect of action was drawing nigh, he wanted to get on with it.

They watched as Philip and Zögernsie inspected the weapons. Zögernsie nodded his approval and Philip waved them to come over. "Colonel Sleibnitz is waiting on the ground with the physician," he said. "Shall we proceed?"
* * *
Horatio and Philip walked ahead. Mary linked arms with Ursula and they followed. "This must be like the prelude to a gladiatorial match," Mary said gloomily.

"I've seen duels before, back in Sinnlos-Amt-Schlock. When you get officers cooped up in barracks over a long winter tempers tend to fray."

"I suppose so. It doesn't make things any easier."

The path ended in a broad swathe of grass before an artfully-created ruin which stood in a small grove of trees. Known as the pavilion, it had been constructed to offer shelter to picnickers – and to those conducting affairs of honor.

Colonel Sleibnitz stood there, standing to his full height and wearing undress uniform. A junior officer stood nearby with a soldier-servant holding the Colonel's cloak. Another, older man in a black cloak stood nearby, a medicine bag resting on the wet grass at his feet. As the sun heaved clear of the distant hills they presented a strange tableau against the backdrop of the mellow stone walls of the pavilion.
"It seems the good Colonel disdains the use of a cloak!" Ursula muttered.

"It's a trick to make the opponent think his adversary has superhuman qualities," Mary replied. "I don't think Horatio will fall for that. He's warm enough in his cloak and that'll count for much. But there is only one physician. Is there not supposed to be two?"

"I suppose one will be sufficient, since this is not a duel with pistols or with swords to the death."

The three men walked over to Sleibnitz and the seconds held a brief discussion before examining the ground for the duel. The combatants ignored each other as was only proper, both accepting total direction from their seconds in the affair. Once the ground had been deemed acceptable for the purpose the women watched as the sword case was opened again and the choice of weapon given to Horatio. He took a blade, stepped away from the group and swished it through the air to test its balance before nodding his satisfaction. Sleibnitz did the same, and appeared satisfied too.

"What is to be done about that wretch Zögernsie?" Mary asked.

"It'll be too much to hope a wild swing with a sword will lay him low," Ursula replied. She glanced around. "If he's being watched, whoever is spying upon him is being deuced discrete."

Mary nudged her. "Uh oh, here we go."

Philip and Zögernsie had stood back. "I must ask for the last time if either party will make apology, or withdraw his challenge," Philip said loudly.

"I do not," Sleibnitz rasped.

"A bit hoarse there," Mary murmured. "He's feeling nervous."

"We can but hope!" Ursula replied, watching Horatio shake his head.

"Gentlemen, take up your positions!"

Horatio and Sleibnitz stepped away from their seconds and turned to face each other. The seconds withdrew and stood near the doctor. "Salute!" Philip cried.
The duelists saluted, raising their swords to the vertical before their faces then sweeping them off to their right with a short bow.

"En garde!"

The swords crossed, clashed – and the fight was on.
Horatio attacked. He struck a beat to the middle of Sleibnitz's blade. The Colonel parried and moved directly to an opposition. Horatio felt the pressure but countered with a sweep low and up. Sleibnitz danced back, his blade whirling to parry in sixte then tierce. Horatio kept up the attack, stamping to distract his opponent, their blades striking in a glissade that echoed in the still air.

Even after a few passes Horatio was able to get a feel for his opponent. Competent in a salon, has probably been out a few times – but experienced in action? I think not! But it won't do to become complacent.

He tried a ballestra lunge, a risky move against a skilled enemy, but Sleibnitz skipped out of the way. He unexpectedly recovered forward and Horatio in turn had to skip back when Sleibnitz's blade hissed past his ear in a well-timed redoublement.

Hmm! Tricky!

Their blades had a conversation for a few passes, the air ringing with the pot-mending clash of metal as Horatio looked for his opening. Sleibnitz tried a coulé but he beat it aside and attempted a disengage, feinting an attack by extension and circling his blade using as small a circle as possible. Sleibnitz brought his blade around to parry but Horatio avoided it and the tip of his blade pierced the fine broadcloth of Sleibnitz's coat.

"Halte!" cried the seconds as one. "Trompement!"

Horatio and Sleibnitz lowered their swords and stepped back, both breathing heavily while the seconds inspected the cut in Sleibnitz's coat. The Colonel stood his icy gaze level and scornful. "No cut. Fence on!" Philip declared, stepping back. "En garde!"

Sleibnitz came on hard, and Horatio was forced to parry quarte and prime, giving ground in the face of the man's fury. His wound began to prickle and he hoped the stitches would hold. But he's tiring! The fool doesn't spend time in the field with his troops, it seems!

Horatio moved into opposition, and found Sleibnitz began to react instead of acting. He launched a false attack, and Sleibnitz fell for it. Horatio didn't follow up, making Sleibnitz realize who was controlling the encounter now. A sheen of perspiration rose on the Colonel's brow as he gritted his teeth and came on. Horatio responded with an invitation, deliberately keeping his blade wide to fool the Colonel into making an attack. He fell for it, lunging with a cry. Horatio side stepped, flicked his blade around to strike the Colonel's upper arm and when the man flinched and stepped back, followed it up with a simple extension.

The tip of his blade shot past the feeble response and scored a line along Sleibnitz's forearm.

"Halte!" cried the seconds.

The opponents stepped back but there was now no doubt. Sleibnitz was clutching his arm and blood was staining his fingers red in the growing light. "The contest of arms is therefore awarded to Lieutenant Horngebläse!" Philip announced, failing to keep the note of satisfaction from his voice.
"Sleibnitz looks furious!" Ursula grinned, relief filling her soul.

"At least he's doing the decent thing," Mary replied, as the Colonel gave Horatio a stiff bow.

Horatio handed the bloodied sword to Philip then turned and came over to them. "All done," he said with a tired smile, as if he'd just finished taking out the trash.
Ursula drew him into her arms and made sure Sleibnitz would be able to see as she kissed Horatio full upon the lips. Sleibnitz could only glare impotently at them as the physician dressed his wounds.

At that moment they became aware of the sound of horses galloping furiously through the streets nearby.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

In the Ducal palace.

"Damn the Margraf for his ill-timing!"

Grand Duchess Irma looked over the tops of her glasses at her husband as he paced their private sitting room. It was late at night, and the lamps glowed softly, too softly now for her tired eyes. She laid aside her needlework and folded her hands in her lap. "Is there ever a good time to have a war, my dear?" she inquired gently.

Her husband frowned then gave a snort of laughter. "No, I suppose not. But the new fellow's timing could not be more awkward, what with the imminent arrival of Reich Duke Wilhelm and the Cavendarian ambassador about to present his credentials. Most of my council members are away in Kimmelsbrücke or they'd be able to help organize things."

"At least we have the new monument to Duke Wilhelm the Bold built and ready for inauguration. You could ask his namesake to dedicate the structure."

"I could! What an excellent suggestion, my dear."

Irma smiled to see the lightening of her husband's countenance. "You do have so much on your mind, dearest; it's hardly surprising that sometimes you cannot see the wood for the trees. That's why I've taken it upon myself to see to a few details."

She gestured and one of the servants brought her notebook. Flipping the pages she pursed her lips. "Ah, yes. The kappelmeister tells me Herr Wömfondlach has written a new opera, Der grüne Ritter, in honor of the Reich Duke's visit. We have several recently purchased works by Scaldcatti and Dogbreathio in the National Gallery which should serve to keep both him and the ambassador entertained. I know it is few weeks until Die Ostern Parade is held, but the Ducal Corps de ballet is sufficiently far along in rehearsals for Der Tanz der Blumen that they can put on a charming display. If the weather continues to improve, they can perform in the Grand Park. Philip did leave instructions for a splendid firework display before he left." She peered up at her husband, who looked slightly stunned. "All in all, we will not disgrace ourselves in showing such hospitality."

"Indeed not!" He beamed at her and crossed the room to take and kiss her hand. "My dear, I am tempted to go off on a prolonged shooting holiday and leave the entire running of the country in your capable hands."

"Oh, tush!" She smiled nevertheless. "Men say such things but never act upon them. You know we'd make too good a job of it and leave you all redundant!"

Karl smiled down at her. "Perhaps you're right." He looked out of the window. "I just wish I knew what was happening in Kimmelsbrücke."

Just then the chamberlain entered bearing a silver salver, upon which lay a sealed envelope. "A message has arrived from Dr. Knappenberger, Your Grace."

"Dr. Knappenberger, by God!" Karl exclaimed, hurrying to take the envelope. "Do excuse me, my dear."

Irma waved away his apology and watched as he opened the message. After his eyes had scanned a few lines he grinned and slapped the paper. "What an excellent fellow Dr. Knappenberger is!" He handed the letter to her. "The Margraf's claim is null and void!"

Irma pushed her glasses up and read.

'Any claim made on behalf of Grafin Ursula under Sacro Illiac law was rendered null and void by the simple declaration of Quia ego sic deco by Archbishop Wolfram upon his relinquishing his claim to the throne.'

Karl smiled. "Of course, since Grafin Ursula took her own steps to remedy the situation, the matter is now of academic interest only. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to have the point confirmed by so eminent a legal personage as the good Doctor."

"I'm so glad!" she said but her husband was already hurrying for the doors.

"Forgive me, but I must be on the wing, dearest, to ensure this news is spread far and wide," he cried.

Irma watched his departure with an air of resignation then turned her thoughts to the prodigal daughter of her brother in law, who'd appeared so suddenly upon the scene to such effect. I wonder what she's like?

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The delight of Mary Amadeus

It took an effort for Horatio not to rub at his stinging cheek. Where the convention of a challenge required a mere slap, the colonel had put some force behind the blow. He stared at the man, noting his ice blue eyes and the twin spots of high color on his cheekbones. "You have the advantage of me sir," Horatio said, his quiet words dropping like stones into the attentive stillness of the ballroom. "I know not of whom you speak."

"Yes, who the devil are you?" Ursula demanded, her eyes blazing.

The colonel bowed to her with a click of heels. "Permit me to introduce myself, Grafin. I am your cousin, Lucius Sleibnitz, Colonel of the First Regiment of Foot." He sneered at Horatio. "This mere officer of cockleshells is far beneath you and me in social order and it ill-becomes him to associate with you."

"I decide who I associate with!" Ursula growled and Horatio noticed how much she sounded like her namesake at that moment.

"You are incorrect, Grafin. That is for others to decide for you now," the colonel said glaring at Horatio. "My challenge is issued, sir! Do you accept, or will you crawl away to your kennel?"

"I will accept your challenge, Colonel," he replied. "It shall be swords to first blood." He looked the man up and down. "I do not wish to deprive the realm of whatever scant resources you can provide."

The spots of color on Sleibnitz's face darkened to a deep puce but Archbishop Wolfram had pushed through the crowd. "Enough!" he said, his voice like a whip-crack. "The challenge has been issued and accepted. It remains for those concerned to name their seconds and withdraw from this gathering." He turned a furious gaze upon Ursula. "As for you, young lady, I shall require your attendance in my chambers in he morning!"

For a second Ursula hesitated but Horatio caught her eye and shook his head. A tantrum now would only make things worse.

"As you wish, father," she said, biting off each word and curtseying to him.

"I shall stand as Lieutenant Horngebläse's second," Graf Philip declaimed. "And I shall be honored to do so!"

Sleibnitz started and gave Philip a questioning look. When he saw the youth's intention was sincere he gave a little shrug of disgust and bowed before turning on his heel and walking away.

Philip watched him go then bowed to the Archbishop. "With your consent, Your Grace, I shall take my principal to his chambers and arrange matters."

"Very well, Philip; please do so."

"My duties are done here father," Ursula said, curtseying to the prelate. "I shall withdraw too. I am somewhat fatigued!"

Wolfram opened his mouth but then sighed and waved for her to go. The four friends departed the ballroom to a rising murmur of outrage and delighted gossip.
* * *
They made their way silently through the great palace until they came to Horatio's chambers. "That went well," Ursula sighed as they entered.

"You are pleased to joke, cousin," Philip said with a wry smile. "I'm only sorry that pompous fool Sleibnitz had to involve himself."

"He's really our cousin?" she asked, sitting on a footstool and kicking the pumps off her feet.

"Unfortunately, yes. He is a member of a cadet branch but still close enough to be family. And ambitious? Much like Shakespeare's Cassius, he has always had a lean and hungry look."

Ursula looked at Horatio, who was unbuckling his sword belt. His motions were slow, as if he was tired and he laid the sword upon a chair as if it were a great burden. "You couldn't take a blow like that, Horatio," she said, getting up and laying a hand upon his shoulder.

"Indeed not, my dear." He gave her a wan smile. "At least it's only to first blood."

"Had it been me in your shoes it'd be pistols for two and breakfast for one" she said.

"And we know who'd be pushing up the daisies come sundown!" Mary Amadeus said with a grin.

"It might just happen yet!" she snarled. "The odious little prick! To say others will decide my affairs!"

Philip blinked at her profanity and turned hurriedly to Mary. "My dear, I regret the coming duel has necessitated a postponement of our assignation tonight, but I can still give you my surprise." He fumbled in one of his coat pockets and withdrew a folded sheet of parchment. "Mary Amadeus, please permit me to present this to you, as a token of my highest esteem."

She took the document and gave him a questioning look before slitting open the seal and reading the contents. Ursula and Horatio watched with interest and not a little concern as her cheeks turned first pale then flushed pink. Mary felt behind her until she found a chair and sank down onto it as if her legs had turned weak. "Oh Philip! I don't know what to say!"

"Yes would be nice," he said, with an anxious smile.

"Yes! Of course, yes! It's… it's such an honor! But will it stand?"

"Will what stand, Mary A?" Ursula asked with fond exasperation.

"Philip has given me a commission as a lieutenant in his regiment of artillery!" Mary said, holding up the parchment.

"It's all perfectly legal, and there are precedents," Philip explained hurriedly, seeing their incredulous faces. "The Holy Mormoan Kingdom of New Wales has an entire guard regiment of women."

"Extraordinary!" Horatio said, gazing from him to a delighted Mary.

Ursula hugged Mary hard. "Congratulations, my dear!"

"Thank you!"

"How very advanced and enlightened of you, Philip!" Ursula said, turning to him.

"Thank you. At least something good has come out of this awful evening."

"Yes, you're right. I feel better already."

A knock came at the door. Philip opened it, much to the obvious surprise of the person in the passageway. "Your Excellency, I am come to arrange matters of the duel," the man said.

"Zögernsie?" Philip exclaimed. "You act for Colonel Sleibnitz?"

"Yes, Excellency," the Baron replied, eyeing the situation in the room. "I returned only recently to the palace after attending to affairs in the town and the colonel told me what occurred. I collect that your principal will not stand down?"

"Not a chance!" Horatio growled.

"My principal will not withdraw either. I understand the duel is to be fought with swords, to first blood?"

"Just so."

The Baron bowed again. "Then I propose the meeting shall take place in the Riverside Park near the pavilion at dawn. Would this be agreeable?"

Horatio waved a hand in response to Philip's inquiring glance. "Yes, perfectly agreeable."

"I shall see you upon the field then, Excellency. Goodnight to you."

"Goodnight, Herr Baron," Philip replied, closing the door.

He turned to see Mary staring hard at the door. "Is something wrong, Lieutenant?" he asked with a whimsical smile.

Mary flushed with pleasure at her new rank but nodded. "Yes. Ursula? That was Zögernsie, one of the men we overheard in the church tower!"

Philip gave them a puzzled look and Ursula explained. "And we still don't know who the other man is!" she finished, letting her frustration show.

"This is most serious!" he said, sitting down and gazing at them all. "Treasonous correspondence with an enemy is a hanging offense! You didn't hear the other man tonight at the ball?"

"No. If he was there we didn't recognize his speech." Ursula scowled. "I'd like to know who he is! I haven't forgiven him for his cracks about the Archbishop's brat and the stupid girl!"

"Quite understandable." Philip rested his chin on his fist in thought. "I shall have to tell Count Ostenberg," he said at last. "Even without proof your word is golden, Ursula. Although we cannot make any overt moves without proof, we can at least keep watch on Zögernsie."

"If you think we should tell the Count then I agree," Ursula said. "Do you think Sleibnitz may be in league with Zögernsie and his partner?"

"I doubt it," Philip said. "Sleibnitz is a prickly fellow but not treacherous. No, we shall have to wait and see."

"So what do we do now?"

"We go to our beds," Ursula said decisively, eyeing Mary Amadeus. "Horatio, you and Philip have a pompous ass to cut down to size early tomorrow, and I have to get the army's latest recruit to bed before she explodes with sheer happiness." She grimaced. "And I have to face dear papa in the morning too!"

"You're quite right, dear Ursula," Philip said. "It's getting late and my fellow here needs his sleep."

"Take this," Ursula said, extracting a silk handkerchief and offering it to Horatio. "No champion should go into battle without a lady's favor!"

He flushed and smiled then kissed her hand. "I shall fight all the better for it!"

"Do that; and if you cut off any part of Colonel Sleibnitz in the process you can bring it back for me as a trophy!"

Only the brief flutter of her eyelid showed him Ursula wasn't entirely serious.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Night airs.

"Are you enjoying the ball, my dear?" Graf Philip asked Mary as he led her through the steps of the minuet.

"I'm having the time of my life!" she said, trying not to grin like an idiot. "I've never ever felt this way before!"

"I'm glad." The music played on, and they danced, and swayed, bowed and curtseyed, back and forth. "I'm looking forward to our assignation later," he murmured as they passed.

Mary's heart gave a hard thump. "Where is the Blue Parlor?" she asked quickly.

"It's otherwise known as the Purple Parlor."

"Purple Parlor?" She stared at him. "To quote Ursula, 'how many parlors does a bloody bishop need?'"

He chuckled. "I've only known my fair cousin for a few days but that sounds like her all over. It's to be found four doors along the corridor at the top of the Grand Staircase in the west wing." The dance ended and they exchanged courtesies as polite applause rippled through the ballroom. "I must circulate now; my duty requires it. But I shall see you at midnight?"

"I'll be there," she whispered.
"Have you ever been to sea?" Ursula asked Horatio as the dance ended and he led her off the floor.

"Yes. I've sailed on three voyages, twice to Britannia and once to Gallia. My uncle owns three brigs that sail out of Cottbus, and I accompanied him on trading missions when I was younger."

"I'd love to go to sea," she said wistfully. "To see nothing but open water, and to sail with wind and tide to strange far-off shores."

"I was seasick for the first three days every time," he said with a wry smile.

She gave him a withering look. "You certainly know how to put a girl in a romantic mood!"

"I'm sorry." His eyes twinkled. "You're right, it's a wonderful life, but it can be hard and perilous work, Ursula."

"I can believe that."

Out the corner of her eye she saw the group of young fellows was edging closer, intent on cutting Horatio away from her side. Not far from them a man of middling height in a colonel's uniform with yellow facings was watching her with a peculiar intensity. His blond hair was pulled back into a severe queue and his ice blue eyes glittered. Frowning at the man she took Horatio's arm and headed for the doors to the terrace overlooking the gardens. She glanced back. The young gentlemen knew that to trespass upon her now would be the height of bad manners and they stopped, frustrated, near the doors. The colonel was still watching her with a look that seemed to border on distaste.

The air was chill after the warm stuffy atmosphere of the ballroom but there was a hint of spring in the night air. The lights of Kimmelsbrücke shone below and she leaned on the balustrade and gazed out at the night. Horatio stood close alongside her, and she was surprised to find just how heightened her senses were. Even without looking directly at him she was vitally aware of his warmth, his presence. No other person had ever affected her so.

"Have you ever been through a storm?" she asked quietly, thinking of troubles ahead.

"Do you mean metaphorically or literally?"

She glanced at him, and saw him smiling in the light from the ballroom. That hint of melancholy hung about his face but she sensed a deep empathy there also. "Both, I suppose."

"I know." He nodded. "Once, in the Northern Sea, a real ripsnorter of a blow that came howling out of the north one night. It blew for three days and we had to strike topmasts and ride it out. We were lucky, for there was plenty of sea room before we reached a lee shore."

"Ugh!" She shuddered. "Were you frightened?"

"Sometimes, but we were too busy surviving to feel much fear."

"I can see how that can be." She arched an eyebrow. "And have you been through a metaphorical storm?"

He leaned on the balustrade, his arm brushing hers and an electric thrill ran through her. "You mean of the kind that'll blow up should we begin a relationship?"

"Should?" she asked lightly, staring at him. "My father won't allow it."

He met her gaze squarely. "But would you? No one ever called me a coward, afloat or ashore. You're a Grafin and I a mere lieutenant; but I wish to court you, Ursula. With all due respect to your father, the only thing that will stop me is your refusal of my intentions."

"Why ever should I refuse?" she asked mildly. Leaning close she kissed him.
* * *
Paul Ehrgeiziger sat reading a broadsheet by lamplight in the room he'd been given within the barracks. Naturally right-handed he was finding it awkward to turn the pages with his left but he persevered. The newspaper was full of news of impending war, the coming visit of Reich Duke Wilhelm von Beerstein, and the arrival of Signore Goffredo Tedesco, the Cavendarian ambassador after a long journey delayed by bad weather. It also had the latest facts about the death of his erstwhile master, Margaf Hermann. Even allowing for the sensationalist inclinations of the journalist there was much that surprised him in the latter report.

A knock on the door brought him out of his contemplation. "Come!"

A barrack room servant entered. "There's a message for you, Herr Baron."

The man proffered a small envelope formed in the usual way by folding the letter diagonally and sealing it. Paul frowned and took it. Rewarding the man with a pfennig he waited until he had left the room before examining the unexpected message. The red wax seal bore the imprint of either a duck or a swan. He squinted at it, but the signet that had made the impression had been too worn to reproduce much detail. He suspected the seal had been tampered with but the signs were too faint to be sure. Sighing he slit open the envelope and read the contents.

Doktor Hölzerner-Kopf presents his compliments to a fellow countryman. He understands Baron Ehrgeiziger was recently injured and desires to offer his services as a physician. The Doktor may be reached at the Swan inn on Koenig Street.

"Hölzerner-Kopf, by God!" Paul swore softly and set the letter aside. It's typical of that sly villain to write in the third person so. What does he want? Ah, useless to speculate! Do I dare reply? The Good Lord knows I have enough troubling my conscience now!

* * *

Ursula and Horatio returned to the ballroom and found Mary Amadeus standing near the French doors. "I think we've worn out our welcome here," she hissed.

"Let the scandalmongers wag their tongues!" Ursula snapped, glaring around. "From what I hear many a fine personage in this room has much more on their conscience than Horatio or I!"

She saw her father heading their way, cleaving through the assembled guests like a ship of the line through a high sea. Had the Archbishop been a warship his gun-ports would have been open, battle pennants flying and the drums beating to quarters.

"Oh dear!" Ursula sighed. "My friends, it's time to take your leave. I'll handle father, and we'll meet up later. Um, did anyone ever find out where the Blue Parlor is?"

Before either could reply the colonel was suddenly standing before them. They looked up in surprise. He slapped Horatio across the face with a white kid glove and flung it at his feet. "You besmirch the good name of my cousin, you dog!" the colonel snarled. "For that you shall give me satisfaction!"

Monday, 23 February 2009

Wings over Hetzenberg.

Tailplane and wing markings for Hetzenberg (top) and the Margravate, based on national colors.

Only a short, non-fiction post today as I have a lot of visa stuff to take care of.
A recent article on aerial wargaming by Tim Beresford led me to speculate on the state of affairs between my imaginations circa 1916. In my mind's eye I can see dashing Hetzenbergers in their Spatz-Beerkatz XIII fighters speeding to intercept the dastardly Margravate Krümpler bombers, while above them the nefarious Pink Baron von Rightrötten lurks in his triplane between the clouds...

Of course another factor in this flight of fancy (pardon the pun) is the Li'l Flying Fokkers range at
Old Glory (UK) designed and produced by Paul Cotton of the New Buckenham club. I bought a couple of these resin and white metal models to build as a birthday present for my future brother-in-law. Their construction is no more fiddly than any other kit, and once painted they really look the business. Suitable rules are readily available, and there are plenty of resources on color schemes and markings, which can be adapted to a home-grown pattern for imaginary air forces.

All this is so much pie in the sky at the moment, but I can dream...

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Desires and designs.

"Good evening, Fraulein Amadeus! You're looking well."

Mary curtseyed to Graf Philip, noting the sparkle in his eye that belied the formal greeting.

"Thank you, Your Excellency. I'm pleased to say I am." She straightened and eyed his rich uniform of purple coat with scarlet facings, blue weskit and gray britches, all trimmed with gold lace. "Do I have the honor of congratulating you on a promotion?"

"I think so," he said, and his eyelid fluttered in the barest hint of a wink. "Now I'm of age General Rauppen-Schlepper accepted my bid to raise a regiment of artillery within the Guard. I must admit I was confident." He stroked a lapel. "I had my tailor make up this uniform a month ago."

"It looks well on you!"

"Thank you." He bowed and a smile creased his lips as he looked at her with a peculiar intensity. It was the first time a young man had ever looked at her so and she blushed with a mixture of confusion and delight. Oh my! I feel most peculiar! But her native intelligence was still working behind the emotions. Yet there's something else behind his look. What's he up to?

She didn't have time to dwell upon the situation further as now the principal guests had arrived, the orchestra struck up.

"Ah!" Philip exclaimed. "This is the latest tune from Vienna! It was written by a clever chap by the name of Wolfgang Appaloosa Walmartz."

"Really? It sounds nice."

"Do you dance, Fraulein?" he asked, holding out his hand as the ballroom floor cleared.

Mary took his hand shyly, amid a stir of confusion and some disapprobation from the gathering who witnessed the extraordinary favor granted to such a lowly person. But I don't care! She thought as he led her out. This is our night!
Ursula was in the middle of a number of gallant young gentlemen, all jockeying for position to offer the Grafin the first dance. Horatio had been pushed aside with exquisite politeness and was now standing, baffled and angry on the outskirts of the crowd. But Ursula turned at the noise from behind her and saw what was happening. Plunging through the press she grabbed Horatio's arm and pointed. "Philip's a daring soul!"

He smiled with relief. "So I see! But I expected no less from him."

"Anything they can do, we can do!" She offered her hand. "May I have the honor?"

Incredible! She flouts convention at the drop of a hat! He laughed. "Of course!"
Archbishop Wolfram had reached the far end of the room. "What's that?" he asked as a hubbub rose and overcame the Wedding Dance from the Marriage of Figureight.

"It seems our young nobles are cutting loose!" Count Ostenberg exclaimed, staring.

Wolfram looked. Graf Philip, heir to the Grand Duchy is dancing with a commoner and a former nun to boot; my own daughter, another possible heir to the Grand Duchy is dancing with a lowly lieutenant! Somehow Wolfram resisted clapping a hand to his forehead but he indulged in a low, heartfelt groan.
* * *
In the town below Doktor Hölzerner-Kopf made his way into the church of St. Barbara and looked for the confessional boxes. They stood in a shadowy aisle to the right and he made for the one closest to the door. Entering the musty interior he sat down and coughed. Someone stirred in the compartment next door.

"The river rises, but the banks hold firm," Hölzerner-Kopf said.

"The heron rises also, and sees much," was the impatient reply from beyond the grill. "What news from the Margraf?"

"The situation is not the best we could hope for," Hölzerner-Kopf said, sighing inwardly at the contact's impatience. "Margraf Hermann died before a full reply to your missive could be framed. It seems our new Margraf, Heinrich, has other plans in mind."

He thought he heard a suppressed curse and shook his head. Clumsy, clumsy man, to show your impatience so! "However," he went on, "there is some cause for hope. The Dowager Margrafin is aware of your goodwill, and is interested in further contact."

"What use can she be?"

Hölzerner-Kopf breathed deep to suppress his annoyance at such rudeness. "Do not be dissuaded by her widowhood. The Dowager has considerable powers; more so in some respects than her son. Our army loves her."


He let the contact dwell upon that snippet for a while. "I suggest you return to your cabal and form a more concrete proposal. Once you have done so, contact me in the usual way and I shall convey it to the Margrafin."

"Can you promise any action?"

"I promise nothing!" Hölzerner-Kopf snapped, his contempt for the amateur conspirator breaking through for an instant. "I do guarantee the Dowager shall give any proposal you send due consideration."

"That…will be acceptable."

"Good. One further matter before I leave. One of my colleagues was taken prisoner in the recent action upon the river. His name is Baron Ehrgeiziger. Do you have news of him, especially his whereabouts?"

"I believe he was wounded and is being treated in the barracks here in town."

"Thank you." Hölzerner-Kopf rose. "I shall leave now. Give me five minutes before departing yourself."

"I will."

Hölzerner-Kopf left the church, savoring the cool evening air after the cold mustiness within. He set his tricorn upon his head and looked up at the lights of the great palace, shining on the hill. Party while you may, fools! He thought with a sour smile. If all goes well, your days are numbered!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

At the Bishop's ball.

The soiree had merged into the evening ball, and Ursula was already heartily sick of being the center of attention. Even the glorious décor of the great ballroom failed to distract her for long. She felt the need for an ally by her side but Mary Amadeus had been absent for a long time that afternoon. When she finally appeared she looked decidedly thoughtful. "What's wrong, Mary A?" Ursula asked, taking her arm and steering her away from the crowd that perpetually hovered nearby.

"I spoke to your father. He gave me my dispensation."

"That's good news – isn't it?"

Mary frowned. "I have the distinct feeling he's working to keep us apart."

Ursula frowned. "Oh, really!"

"That's my feeling. He advised me to go home to visit my father and decide what I want to do with my life."

"As one door closes, another opens. You wanted to see your father anyway, my dear."

"Well, yes. But I still feel worried."

"Please, don't be. I thought father would be above such things." Ursula squeezed Mary's hands. "Don't worry! I won't let you be kept away from me. You know I won't."

"I'm sure of it."

Ursula winked. "And you have your assignation tonight!"

Mary colored up. "So I do! I wonder where the Blue Parlor is?"

"I've found a Yellow Parlor, a Green Parlor, a Red parlor, a Gold Parlor, and even a Brown Parlor, but no Blue one yet." Ursula shook her head. "I'm baffled! How many parlors does a bloody Bishop need?"

"Language, Ursula!" Mary grinned. "We mustn't give these refined ladies the vapors if they overhear!" Ursula replied with a word that would have floored a whole room of refined ladies and Mary guffawed.

Ursula noticed the censorious looks Mary's laugh garnered and grinned. "I feel better already! Oh, this is so tiresome!"

"I think you'll feel better yet in a moment," Mary said, looking over her shoulder. "Here comes Lieutenant Horngebläse. Wow! He looks very fine!"

Ursula turned. "He does indeed!"

Horngebläse was approaching, his bearing stiff and formal. Ursula guessed he was feeling the multitude of gazes directed his way. He wore his full dress uniform of deep blue coat and snowy white britches and stockings. His cocked hat was tucked neatly under his arm, and a beautiful sword hung by his side, although Ursula noticed the buckles on his shoes were only pinchbeck. They do not pay these riverine navy fellows enough.

"Lieutenant Horngebläse!"

"Your Excellency," he replied with a bow.

"I thank you most kindly for your noble services in rescuing me and my friends, Lieutenant," she said loudly. "Your actions were most brave and considerate."

"It was my pleasure as well as my duty, Excellency."

She gave him a warm smile. "My name's Ursula, Horatio. Remember?"

Instead of glancing to gauge the reaction of those watching to such intimacy he met her gaze squarely. And I like you all the more for it! "Ursula," he said with a smile.

"Good. I do thank you, Horatio, most sincerely," she said quietly then grinned. "Now the formal nonsense is out of the way, let's go eat!"

Mary Amadeus led the way to the buffet.
* * *
Konrad lay in a private room within the barracks infirmary, feeling feverish. The wound in his side had been diagnosed as a through-and-through, and was worse than the four wounds he'd suffered in the course of his military career. A hole the size of his palm had been blown out of his side below the ribs. The surgeon who'd operated was satisfied no major organs had been damaged, although his muscles had been badly torn. I'll always be stiff there now. But an inch to the right and… Quite.

Even so, some matter had been carried into his wound by the gendarme's bullet. It was causing an infection, and he knew very well what that could lead to. A deep sense of anxiety was clouding his mind.

Colonel Schmutzgräber entered the room bearing a bottle of port and a box of dried fruit. "How's the invalid, then?" he inquired, pulling a chair up to the side of the bed.

"Bored and worried, old friend," Konrad replied with a wan smile.

"The sawbones said your wound was healing."

"It feels hot."

Schmutzgräber's face turned thoughtful. "Ah. That's not good. Shall I call the surgeon?"

"In a while." Konrad raised a hand, feeling as if it weighed a ton, and pointed to a packet of paper on the bedside table. "There is my report on all that occurred. I'd be much obliged if you'll see it safely into the hands of General Rauppen-Schlepper."

Schmutzgräber reached for the packet and tucked it away in his capacious coat pocket. "Of course."

"Ursula did well, Willie."

"Did you have any idea who she really was?"

Konrad laughed and winced at the stab of pain in his side. "No. Some field agent I am!"

"She fooled a lot of people," Schmutzgräber said, pouring the port into a glass. "Drink this."

Konrad took the glass and drank. The fortified wine felt good in his dry mouth and throat. "I'm surprised Ursula hasn't come by to see me."

"Don't fret so, Konrad." Schmutzgräber patted his shoulder. "She's a great lady now, for all her tender years. Her time won't be her own from now on."

Konrad managed a smile. "Knowing Ursula that's something she'll rectify with speed!"

"No doubt. I've heard all kinds of rumors about her friend."

"Mary Amadeus? Willie, that girl is a genius! What she doesn't know about explosives isn't worth knowing."

"Really? Really!" Schmutzgräber looked thoughtful. "It's of an accord with what I've heard. Graf Philip is of a similar disposition and is said to be quite taken with her."

"I doubt he'll be allowed anything more than a friendship with that erudite young woman."

"I think you're right. Still, I'd like to meet this paragon."

"She went to the palace with Ursula I think."

"The General arrived today. I'll see if I can hunt her out when I deliver your report to him."

"What happened to Baron Ehrgeiziger?"

"He's staying in town on parole."

"You know he's the chief intelligence agent for the Sicherheits-Büro in Randstadt?"

"Oh yes, but he's observing his parole." Schmutzgräber winked. "We're keeping an eye on him, and making sure he knows it."

"He was wounded when Ursula and Mary Amadeus pulled him aboard the Acheron."

"Yes, but he was not wounded as badly as was thought. The same surgeon treated him as treated you. He says the ball that struck him was nearly spent. It hit his right shoulder blade and merely dented the bone. He lost a lot of blood but was otherwise unhurt."

"He was lucky." Konrad thought on the matter. "From the sound of things one of his own men must've shot him in the back."

"It happens," Schmutzgräber said sagely. "You get a hard-driver, constantly on the backs of the men under his command. And anything can happen in the middle of an action."

"Yes. It might be worth speaking to the Baron. There may be some division within the enemy intelligence service we can exploit."

"Indeed, but not now, old friend. It's time for you to rest; you're looking most shockingly pale and sweaty." Schmutzgräber rose. "I'll send the surgeon in, and go about my duties. Rest well, Konrad, and I'll call later in the day."

"Thank you for coming by."

Schmutzgräber hesitated. "If I see Ursula – I mean, the Grafin – I'll ask her to attend upon you."

"I'd appreciate it, Willie. Thanks again."

Schmutzgräber left, his expression thoughtful. Konrad settled back as the surgeon entered the room. He didn't need to be psychic to know Willie was thinking I'll ask her to attend upon you – before it's too late
* * *
"What's next for you, Horatio?" Ursula asked, helping him to a plate of vol-au-vents.

He pursed his lips. "At the moment we're going to remain in Kimmelsbrücke. I know the formal negotiations concerning our being at war or not have yet to take place, but it's possible the Margraf's army may attempt to surprise us before our army has fully assembled. The Gravies may storm Regentropfen and try to gain the bridge, or perhaps attempt to cross the river either above or below the town." He smiled, looking tanned and confident. "If they do try something, the flotilla will be there in harm's way."

Ursula nibbled on a vol-au-vent and looked at him thoughtfully. "You're a career officer, Horatio, and going into harm's way is what you do. But I hope you'll be careful." For my sake as much as yours!

His expression took on a troubled guise and that hint of melancholy showed. "I must do what I must do in the course of my duties, Ursula," he said softly. "After our adventure you know there are no guarantees."

"I know." She managed a smile. "In time to come you'll be a fat old admiral, taking copious quantities of snuff and boring the britches off all who stray within range with your anecdotes!"

"I'll take that as a command," he grinned.

"I'll damned well see you do!" she grinned back.
A few feet away from them Mary Amadeus had a small mountain of food piled on her plate and was wielding a fork with all the gusto of someone who'd been on short commons for too long. She watched the interplay between the two, and watched also the judgemental expressions on the faces of those around them.

Ursula doesn't know – or more likely doesn't care – what kind of effect she's having here. If her grumpy old daddy were to see them together it'll be her for the Grand Tour and marriage, and poor Horatio for the coldest, remotest posting that can be found!

Even as she thought of the consequences the Bishop's chamberlain announced the arrival of the principal guests in the great ballroom.

"My lords, ladies and gentlemen, His Grace Archbishop Wolfram! His Excellency Count Ostenberg! His Excellency Graf Philip! His Grace the Bishop of Kimmelsbrücke!"

"Philip!" Mary's great heart gave a lurch and she hastened to the door to peer out.

The dignitaries advanced into the ballroom and the guests parted to bow or curtsey to them. Graf Philip followed, walking beside the Bishop and behind his uncle and the Chancellor. She admired his tall straight figure then noticed he was wearing – "A uniform?"

"We'd better go make our obeisance," Ursula said behind her. "Um, Mary A? You'd better put the plate down somewhere."

"Ah." A liveried servant was standing, a still as a graven image against the wall nearby. Mary tapped him on the arm. "Be a dear and hold this for a moment," she said and thrust the plate into his hands.

He blinked but bowed, holding the heaped plate with a faint blush of embarrassment coloring his pale cheeks.

The three friends headed into the ballroom and took their places in the lineup. As the dignitaries approached, they made their bow and curtseys. Mary straightened up in time to see the flicker of annoyance cross the Archbishop's face as he saw the close proximity of Ursula and Horatio.

"I'm glad to see you hear, child," he said. "I understand the ladies of the court had a hard time trying to find you."

"It's a huge palace, father. It's very easy to get lost."

"Hmm!" He looked skeptical. "Indeed. Good to see you, Lieutenant, Fraulein Amadeus."

"Your Grace," they murmured.

"I hope you're not monopolizing my daughter, Lieutenant?" Wolfram said in a jocular tone that sounded patently false to Mary.

"Her company is truly enchanting, Your Grace."

"I'm pleased to hear it, but you must circulate, my dear. Come with me."

Mary watched with a sinking feeling as her best friend began to color-up. Archbishop Wolfram moved on to greet other guests, obviously expecting his child to fall in behind him. An idea came to Mary and she touched Ursula's arm and bent to whisper. "Ursula, it's a good idea to circulate," she said in a low voice. "Whoever the other conspirator was in that room, I'm sure he'll be here. You may be able to detect him."

"Ah. Yes, you're right." Ursula calmed down visibly once her professional senses engaged. "You'd better circulate too, Mary A. We'll meet later when we get the chance and compare notes"

Ursula moved away to meet and greet other of the delegates to the war conference and Horatio turned to Mary. "What was that about a conspirator, Mary?"

"It's not a long story," she began, but Philip had finished conversing with an important guest and was turning to her with a broad smile. "But I'll tell you later…"

Friday, 20 February 2009

The Girls are back in town.

At the palace Horngebläse was ushered into the presence of the Archbishop, and much to his surprise and discomfort found the Grand Ducal Chancellor Count Ostenberg waiting alongside the prelate, with a host of officers and government officials thronging the room.

The walk across the floor of the reception room to where the principal men stood waiting for him seemed like a mile. All eyes were upon him. Nothing had been said officially about the recent action, and Horngebläse could not be sure if the Powers That Be approved of his exploits in rescuing the Grafin during a time of heightened tensions.

"Is this the young fellow?" the Count asked in a hearty voice that dispelled much of Horngebläse's discomfort as he approached.

"Yes," Archbishop Wolfram said in a neutral tone.

"Lieutenant Horngebläse reporting, Excellencies," he said, coming to attention. He was wearing his workaday uniform. The good blue broadcloth was now rather shabby and worn in places and he felt like a fish out of water in such glittering company. He wished he had his dress uniform but it had not yet been returned to him after Ursula had finished with it.

The Archbishop must have read his mind, for he gestured to a servant, who stepped forward bearing a neat bundle of clothing. "I rather believe these belong to you, Lieutenant."

Horngebläse cast a rueful eye over the bundle. "They do, Your Grace."

"They have been cleaned and pressed, and this fellow will carry them for you when he guides you to your chambers presently."

"My… my chambers, Your Grace?"

"Yes, Lieutenant. You are very much the hero of the hour in saving my errant daughter. It is my pleasure to extend a formal invitation to you to attend the celebratory ball to be held here this evening. A suite has been set aside for your use."

Horngebläse bowed. "Thank you, Your Grace."

"Grafin Ursula will no doubt wish to thank you formally in front of the guests for your gallant rescue of herself and her companions."

"It was a privilege to be of service to the Grafin."

"Yes." The Archbishop's countenance was bland, but Horngebläse had the impression he was hiding some strong emotion.

Count Ostenberg smiled. "As the direct representative of His Grace Grand Duke Karl, it is my pleasure to reward your brave and exemplary conduct on his behalf." An officer stepped forward with a fine dress sword laid in his palms and the Count took it and presented it to Horngebläse. "In recognition of your recent action upon the Eisenwasser, it is my pleasure to award you the Sword of Honor, First Class."

Horngebläse stiffened. High approval indeed! "Thank you, Your Excellency!" He felt a deep and growing pleasure run through him as he accepted the sword. Aside from the recognition of his services and the prestige of ownership of such a sword, it carried with it a pension of twelve silver Marks a year. It's not pleasant to be mercenary but what I can do with that money!

"Some other reward may come your way presently," Count Ostenberg said with a knowing look. "In the meantime, you have my heartiest congratulations Lieutenant! Well done!"

A round of applause broke out around the room, and Horngebläse felt his face grow warm. He bowed again and received a subtle gesture of dismissal from the Chancellor. As he followed the servant from the room he felt as if he were walking on air. It only remains for me to see Ursula again for this to be one of the best days I've ever had!
* * *
Archbishop Wolfram watched the Lieutenant leave the room with mixed feelings. He seems like a personable young man, and there's no doubt he's brave; but a suitable match for Ursula? I think not. And then there's that other friend of hers…

"A splendid young chap there, Your Grace," Count Ostenberg said. "We'll need more like him in the days ahead."

"Indeed," Wolfram said, dismissing Lieutenant Horngebläse from his mind. "What is the next step for you, Your Excellency?"

Ostenberg scratched his nose. "We meet with the Margraf's delegation tomorrow. His Grace has given me full powers to act in his name."

"And what will you say?"

"We'll ensure they know exactly how we feel about your daughter's kidnapping. It was an act of war, pure and simple. If they wish to avoid war they'll pay reparations, cede the County of Waldorf-Salle-Ads to us and remove those troops from the border."

"And if they don't?"

"Then our army will march." Ostenberg's smile was one of quiet confidence. "We'll take what is rightfully ours and seize assets to the value of the reparations."

"I'm pleased that you have everything in hand."

"I'm sure we have."

"My next task is a simpler one." Count Ostenberg gave him an inquiring look and Wolfram smiled. "I have to interview a nun about her decision not to be a nun any more."

"Would this young lady be Sister Mary Amadeus?"

Wolfram was surprised. "You know her?"

"Graf Philip was extolling her virtues yesterday evening. It seems she possess quite remarkable talents when it comes to explosives."

"That's one way of putting it," Wolfram said, remembering the repair bills.

"If she were not female I'd have no hesitation in offering her a commission!"

They laughed. "The idea of a woman officer is absurd, my dear Count," Wolfram said, patting his shoulder. "Ah well! I must depart now and attend to her. If you'll excuse me?"

They bowed and Wolfram took his leave, bound for the offices set aside for his use. Father Galliard met him at the door. "Sister Mary Amadeus is waiting for you, Your Grace."

"Thank you, Richard. Is all prepared?"

"Yes, Your Grace."

Wolfram nodded and entered the office. There Sister Mary Amadeus was waiting for him in a state of some agitation. She wore civilian clothes of fine cut. But she still resembles a Burgomaster's daughter in her Sunday best.

"Thank you for seeing me, Your Grace," she said, rising and kissing his ring.

"You're welcome, my child." He sat behind the desk and regarded her somberly. "Ursula gives me to understand you seek to dissolve your vows. Is that correct?"

Mary Amadeus blushed and nodded. "My recent experiences have shown me the impossibility of continuing my vocation, Your Grace. My belief in God is sound; His presence in my life shows itself in so many ways. Yet I feel I can serve Him better elsewhere."

"I see." Wolfram rubbed his chin. "Then it is with reluctance that I grant you your wish." He reached into a drawer and extracted a document. Father Galliard came forward with melted sealing wax and Wolfram signed and impressed his signet upon the document. He passed it across to her, along with a small purse of coins. "This is your release, Fraulein Amadeus, along with a grant in lieu of such possessions as you gave up upon joining the Order of St. Ungulant."

She blinked. "Thank you, Your Grace."

"Thank you for your service to date. And thank you also for being a friend to Ursula in her time of need."

"It was my pleasure, Your Grace."

"I do appreciate it. At the moment, I think you should return to your family home and consider your future. Your father is a mining engineer in Wöhl, I understand?"

"Yes, Your Grace."

"Then please consider a visit to him. You may go, Fraulein."

Mary Amadeus seemed on the verge of saying more but instead she rose, clutching her precious document, gave both clerics a quick curtsey and departed the room. Wolfram watched her go and mentally sighed. I suppose I could have been a little more sensitive, but that piece of writing will save the church a goodly sum! And Ursula needs to grow up and soon if she's to be useful to the realm. A pity Mary Amadeus is not of a higher social order. Oh well, onwards and upwards… "What's next on the agenda, Richard?" he asked.
* * *
General Rauppen-Schlepper alighted from his coach in the forecourt of the great palace and was surprised to see Graf Philip waiting for him at the top of the steps to the great doors. "Your Excellency," he said, saluting with a smile. "It's a pleasure and a surprise to see you here."

"I heard you were on the way from the cantonment so I thought I'd be here to greet you. Everyone else is so busy these days."

"You do me great honor, Your Excellency."

"I'm pleased to do so, General." Graf Philip gestured. "May I show you to where the delegation is assembling?"

"You're too kind," Rauppen-Schlepper said, wondering. A butler could do this! As they headed deeper into the great palace he cocked an eye at the tall youth striding alongside him. "Philip, I know you. What do you want from me?"

Graf Philip grinned. "I can't pull the wool over your eyes, can I, Rupert?"

"Not since that incident with the pony and the firecrackers, no."

"Well, I was only ten at the time! I had this theory…"

"A theory!" Rauppen-Schlepper shook his head and gave his young friend a glare mitigated with real affection. "It took us hours to get the poor thing off that roof! And I still don't know where you got such a huge quantity of firecrackers from!"

"There is something you can do for me," Philip said hurriedly.

"Changing the subject, eh? I see I'll never know the answer to that mystery," Rauppen-Schlepper chuckled ruefully. "Very well, Philip: What can I do for you?"

"You have the power to grant commissions without fear or favor."

"Indeed I do."

"Can you make me a colonel-inhaber of artillery, with immediate effect?"

Rauppen-Schlepper stopped and turned to look at him. "Of course I can. You're good for the surety. Knowing your love of all things that go bang, Philip, I can't say I'm surprised at your choice. Yet I have the feeling there's something behind your request."

"Indeed there is. I've met a promising young candidate for a commission, and would like to grant it myself. A colonelcy is the lowest rank at which I can do so."

"Has this arisen from that affair up the river you took part in?"

"Yes. The candidate performed admirably in the course of the action and is most worthy to hold officer rank, I assure you."

"If you recommend the commission I'd be pleased to make one out for this fellow if you so wish. It would save you the expense of raising a regiment."

"Thank you, but no. I'm taking a personal interest in the case."

"That's very commendable of you. The good Lord knows we are short of artillery." Rauppen-Schlepper thought briefly. "Very well, I'll have the necessary papers prepared and sent to you, of course, but as of this moment, you have your own commission." He held out his hand. "Congratulations, Colonel!"

Monday, 16 February 2009

Personal interlude...

I'll have to ask for my readers' forebearance as I'm going to be busy with a number of personal matters for a while. Further episodes of the Chronicles will appear as-and-when.

Will Ursula and Mary Amadeus uncover the identity of the treasonous plotter?
How will the Archbishop receive Lieutenant Horngebläse?
What will Paul Ehrgeiziger do next?
All these questions will be answered in the next episode of -
The Hetzenberg Chronicles.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Palace interlude - 3

"The question, of course, is how to find out who the other man was," Mary Amadeus said as they descended the stairs. "Even you can't accuse anyone of treason without some kind of proof."

"I know. And there's more than one suspect in this palace at the moment, Mary A." Ursula paused on the next landing. "You were pushed out of circulation when that mob descended on me, so you wouldn't know the current situation.

"Count Ostenberg was sent by my uncle as head of a delegation to conduct negotiations with the Margraf over me and the prospects of war. Baron Zögernsie is one of the delegates. I'm guessing our mystery man was another." She pursed her lips. "He needed briefing by Zögernsie, so he can only be someone who has recently arrived. We can get a list of those who've just arrived."

"Were you debriefed over our adventures?"

Ursula shook her head. "No. I think they're relying upon poor Konrad to do that when he recovers. I must find out where he's being treated so I can visit. As for our opinion, we're only women; what do we know about such matters?" she said in a sour tone. "Besides, I didn't get a chance to say much to father before I was pounced on. Several of their wives accompanied the men of the delegation." She grimaced. "You can imagine what a fuss they made of me!"

Mary hid a grin. "They mean well."

Ursula sighed and ran her hand over the railing. "I know, but it's not easy on me."

"No. You're the least aristocratic noblewoman I know."

"Thank you for that." Ursula smiled.

"I'm glad to see you're getting some of your bounce back."

"Yes. I've cooled down now I've had time to think." Ursula looked glum. "Unfortunately the only way I can see to uncover the identity of the mystery man is to attend the soirée and the ball this evening and hope to overhear him talking."

"Oh dear!"

"Yes. I'll have to submit to the vapid inanities of the court again." Ursula forced a smile and rubbed Mary's arm. "And you need to go see my father and get that dissolution!"

"I shall."

"Speaking of fathers, wouldn't you like to go home and see yours? You lived in Wöhl, didn't you? It's not far from here."

"I would. But you need me here."

Ursula hugged Mary and kissed her forehead. "Dear girl, it would be very selfish of me to keep you from your family. I can suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune alone here for a while. There's no way I could move against these conspirators without evidence, and that may well take time to find – if it exists. No, we'll arrange for you to go home tomorrow. You can spend some time with your family and come back when you're ready."

"I would like to see my family again," Mary said wistfully.

"And so you shall. Come on; let's go back to the bear pit."

As they emerged into a broad corridor lined with silk wallpaper and hung with countless paintings, a faint cry very much like a hunter's view-halloo! sounded from the far end. Ursula and Mary saw a body of court women flow through a set of double doors and Ursula groaned. "Here we go again…"
* * *
"…I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live."

The sonorous tones of the parson floated in the still air in the lee of the hill, as the dead from the battle on the river were laid to rest in the quiet churchyard of St. Barbara. Lieutenant Horngebläse stood at the front of his surviving crew by the mass graveside, only half his mind on the service. His gaze was fixed on the great palace upon the hill. I wonder what she's doing now? There had been a few women in his busy life, some dalliances, but nothing serious. Then this besmirched girl with gamine hair boards my gunboat in the middle of battle and takes my heart!
He tried to turn his mind back to the service but it was a struggle. Do I dare court her? What chance have I got?

The service rolled to a close, and the crewmen detailed as the firing party stepped forward with their muskets. They raised them to their shoulders and fired the traditional three volleys over the grave. Crows flew up from the trees around the graveyard, their harsh cries echoing. Powder smoked eddied and hung in the still air, reminding him of the recent battle. "On hats!" he commanded. The crew stood to attention. Horngebläse saluted the dead, holding the pose for the full three seconds. "At ease. Right face! Dismiss!"

His crew broke up into their usual shambling mob when ashore and began to head for the gates. Horngebläse thanked the parson and turned to find another priest standing quietly nearby.

"Do I have the honor of addressing Lieutenant Horngebläse, of the riverine flotilla?" the man inquired, bowing.

"You do, sir," he replied, responding in kind.

"I am Father Galliard, of the Archbishop's retinue. They told me at the dockside you would be here. Forgive me for intruding upon such a delicate moment, Lieutenant, but I bear a message from my master. He desires you attend upon him at your earliest convenience."

Horngebläse blinked. Much like any superior officer in any military service, when an Archbishop and brother to the ruler of the realm said at your earliest convenience he really meant right now.

"I shall be honored to attend upon His Grace."

"Then please accompany me, Lieutenant."

Horngebläse fell into step alongside the priest. His heart began to beat a little faster. Dare I expect to see Ursula? And what would I say to her if she be in her father's presence?

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Palace interlude - 2

The Bishop's palace was huge, something Ursula and Mary Amadeus turned to their advantage in eluding the ladies of the court. They moved from room to room, ducked down corridors and galleries, sped through servants' wings, and kitchens redolent with delicious smells and fierce heat. Occasionally they'd catch a glimpse of distant, questing figures in court dress, or servants with an anxious look, but avoided being spotted. Mary Amadeus had developed a surprising turn of speed for a nun soon after her interest in all things explosive had turned to practical experimentation. It had kept her alive. Now it came in useful when accelerating away from pursuers.

"This place is a bloody labyrinth!" Ursula exclaimed. "Where's Ariadne when you need her?"

Eventually they fetched up in a small cozy room between the great towers overlooking the river. "This is more like it," Ursula said looking round. "It's a better version of Abbess Hilda's private parlor under the tower back at the convent. I wonder whose it is."

"I don't care!" Mary sighed as she sank into a chair. "I'm glad we can stop hurrying for a while."

Ursula ruffled her hair then sat down. "You did much better than I expected, dear Mary A. All the dashing about we've done this last week has made us both fitter than we were."

"I think so. I feel the better for it."

"We can take a breather away from those twittering ninnies and take stock of what's happened and what we do next."

Mary produced her letter. "Philip did send me this," she said.

Ursula took and read the letter. "Oh my! He invited you to an assignation!"

"Yes!" Mary felt her face grow hot and the delicious warm glow filled her heart once more, but she felt troubled all the same. "I've no idea what to do – if I do anything at all. I'm still a nun; it wouldn't be right."

"Actually, that won't be much of a problem for you. My father told me he'd be quite happy to dissolve your vows, should you request it."

"Did he say anything about saving the abbey a heap of repair bills?"

"Ooh, you cynic!"

Mary smiled sadly and shrugged. "I know I cost the Church a pretty pfennig in my time."

Ursula reached over and squeezed her hand. "Yes, he did mention repair bills." She frowned. "He would have said much more, had I given him the chance. I'm afraid I was rather cheeky to him."


Ursula leaned back in the chair with her hands across her stomach and thrust her feet out. "I'm frustrated at returning to this world, I suppose. I've been here less than a day and already I feel stifled."

"I know what you mean. We were being chased back in the Margravate, but at least we were free."

"Yes. I can't say I'm proud of my behavior toward father. I'll have to apologize in some way, without being caught by the court ladies and being killed by sheer social vapidity." Ursula stared out the window, lost in thought for a moment then shook herself and smiled. "But enough of that. I think you should go see my father today and get that dissolution signed and sealed. Then you can go see Cousin Philip with a clear conscience."

"Well, it won't be that clear," Mary murmured. "Meeting him alone is rather risqué, don't you think?"

"I'll come with you as chaperone if you wish," Ursula shrugged, "although Philip doesn't strike me as the seductive type."

"No, he's nice, but I suppose proprieties have to be observed."

Ursula gave her a lazy smile. "I may ask you to do the same for me, when I meet Horatio again!"

"Certainly, my dear. I wonder where the Blue Parlor is located."

Before Ursula could reply they heard footsteps climbing the stairs toward their room. As one they got up and hastened into a small side chamber, where Ursula took the key and locked the door from the inside. They waited with baited breath for the footsteps to pass. "It could be someone looking after the great clocks higher up," Ursula said.

"I hope so."

But the door to the parlor opened and they heard people enter. "This is a likely spot," someone said in a patrician accent. "Try that door, my dear fellow."

Someone approached the door to where they hid and both women held their breath. The handle rattled. "Locked."

"Good. Sit down, and let us talk."

Chairs scraped. "D' you know, I'm sure I can smell perfume." Ursula grimaced.

"And this chair feels warm."

"So does this one. I dare say one of the ladies from the court had an assignation in here." The tone was jocular.

"I hope she doesn't come back!"

"Oh no. They're chasing the Archbishop's brat."

Mary Amadeus grabbed Ursula's arm as she stiffened with outrage.

"That'll keep them occupied for a while. We can talk in peace."

"Who is it?" Mary mouthed.

Ursula put her lips close to her ear to whisper. "The one with the deeper voice is Baron Zögernsie; I don't know the other."

The voices continued. "I received some reports en-route, including that of an engagement with Margravate forces upriver, but nothing since."

"Then I can supply some further details, my dear Baron," Zögernsie said. "The Archbishop's daughter successfully escaped the hands of the new Margraf, Heinrich, and reached the Eisenwasser. Somehow she smuggled a message to us asking for rescue. That meddling idiot Creighton used his initiative to send one of our gunboats to collect her from a riverside village on the Margravate shore. It appears a troop of the Margraf's gendarmes were on her trail and the gunboat engaged them in the course of the mission."

"Which was a success," the other speaker said in a flat tone.

"Which was a success. The girl was brought off, along with her friend and our spy, that fellow Beckenbaur. He was wounded in the action."

"A pity the stupid girl didn't stay where she was. The whole situation would have been better for all concerned."

Mary hugged Ursula hard. Her friend's face had taken on a highly dangerous expression. "Easy, my dear!" she hissed.

"Did you hear something?" the speaker asked.

"Yes," Zögernsie replied. "Don't worry. It could be mice, or the remnants of snow sliding off the roof."


"I should add that two of the Margraf's officers were captured in the course of the mission. One was a gunboat commander, quickly exchanged, but the other is none other than Baron Ehrgeiziger."

"Ehrgeiziger? The head of the Sicherheits-Büro in Randstadt?"

"The same. It seems his new master promoted him, and he's a parolee in the town as we speak."

A silence followed in which Mary struggled successfully to calm her friend.

"Interesting," the other speaker said at last. "You think we can make use of his presence here?"

"Oh yes. It appears our message to the old Margraf went sadly astray upon his unfortunate demise, but Ehrgeiziger offers us another channel of communication to his successor."

"Good. We must make use of it. I want the new Margraf to know he has friends within the Hetzenberg court."

"I shall set matters in hand at once."

"Please do so. And now I see the time has wended on, and I must attend this afternoon's soiree. Such a bore!"

"Indeed. Shall we go?"

Chairs scraped, and nothing more was said in the other room. The women heard the outer door close and silence fell, to be broken by Ursula's soft growl. "Those treasonous dogs!"

"They were stupid!" Mary said, unlocking the door and peering out. "I mean, they could smell your perfume, and could feel the chairs we sat on were warm, yet they didn't put two-and-two together and realize we could be in here?"

"We could put that to our advantage!" Ursula said, following her out into the room.

"I wonder who the other man was."

"I don't know, but I intend to find out! The 'Archbishop's brat,' am I?" Ursula's eyes glittered dangerously. "I'll make him eat his words!"

Friday, 13 February 2009

Palace interlude - 1

When Archbishop Wolfram next set eyes upon his errant daughter she had been transformed. Ursula swept into the private parlor wearing a day dress of sheer blue silk and a low wig of ivory white. Both had been loaned to her no doubt by either Grafin Ostenburg or Baroness Zögernsie. Her face had been scrubbed clean and her natural beauty shone. The noblewomen of the court who'd accompanied the mission to Kimmelsbrücke had taken her in hand within minutes of her arrival, exclaiming with dismay over her apparel and rather rank smell as they ushered her off to the Bishop's palace.

Now she was freshly-scrubbed and presentable at last. He smiled with approval as she approached and curtseyed to him. This is much more like it! His comfortable sense of everything falling back into order disappeared in a flash when Ursula had completed her curtsey and looked him in the eye. "I feel like a bloody idiot!" she fumed.

"Ursula! Pray do not use such foul language!"

"I'm in a foul mood, father!" She jerked her thumb in the direction of the private quarters. "All I wanted to do was rest and eat, but those simpering ninnies grabbed me and had me scrubbed with pumice stone to within an inch of my life! They complained I reeked of gunpowder!"

"You did!"

She waved her hand. "I was in a battle, father. Remember? Besides, I've lived with Mary Amadeus for three years; I'm used to the smell of powder smoke."

Wolfram winced. "Mary Amadeus? Not Sister Mary Amadeus?"

"Is there any other?"

"I hope not! If there were two of them in the realm the repair bills would bankrupt us within a year!" he muttered.

Ursula had sat down, uninvited. Now she scowled at him. "She's a very good friend to me, father! Had it not been for her and poor Konrad, I wouldn't be here today."

"Just so, just so." When did this meeting slip out of my control? He wondered plaintively.

"Besides, Mary A is thinking of dissolving her vows."

"She is?" he said hopefully.

"Yes." Ursula held up a hand. "She'll have to tell you that herself, father. It's not for me to say."

"Of course. Well, as her superior within the Church I can give her dispensation…"

"That'll be nice. She's gaga over Cousin Philip."


"He's a nice fellow. They're made for each other."

Outrageous! "Your Uncle will have definite views on that!"

"Don't tell me Philip's already engaged to some pure-bred nitwit from another court!"

"Well no, but –"

Her eyes narrowed. "I hope you're not thinking of doing the same to me?"

The thought had crossed my mind... "Well -- !"

"If so, forget it! After that episode with the creepy Heinrich I'll make my own mind up about that."

"Now look here my girl --!"

"And while we're on the subject of my escape I'd like you to take care of a good fellow and his family who aided us. His name's Bruno, his wife is Lydia, and they have four charming children. They're poor folk, and I'd like you to find them good employment on one of the estates. They deserve it."

"That can be arranged," he said, grasping at the moment. "But I must –"

"Then there's Lieutenant Horngebläse..." Wolfram stared. Is she blushing? It's positively unnerving! "I'd like him to have some kind of reward. You should've seen him in action last night! He's very brave and clever."

Wolfram closed his eyes. "And a handsome young fellow too, I noticed. You did hug and kiss him before coming ashore. I thought you were just thanking him in your usual exuberant way. Please don't tell me you've fallen for a common officer!" he groaned.

"Very well, I won't." She got to her feet and headed for the door. "But please see he gets some kind of recognition. I'll see you later."

Ursula departed from the room, leaving Wolfram feeling as if he'd just walked through a tornado. He raised his eyes to the heavens. "Lord, are You bored up there to inflict this upon me?"
* * *
Mary Amadeus had been swept up in the general scrum of gentlefolk who'd assembled to welcome Ursula home. On discovering that she was nobody in particular she had then been shunted off to a side chamber within the palace to look after her own needs. The servants had treated her with respect, bringing her water to bathe in and clean clothing. Rumors were already spreading about last night's action and she felt speculative eyes turn her way several times.

Even so, she felt abandoned, bereft, and strangely cross. Ursula was somewhere in the bowels of the palace doing who-knew-what, and she'd last seen Graf Philip disappearing into a chamber with several of the court bigwigs. She sat now in a sunny spot in the palace gardens surrounded by birdsong, looking across the river and wondering what on earth to do next.

I should ask for an audience with the Archbishop, she thought. But if I forsake my vows and take up a normal life, what would I do? Realistically she knew she stood no chance of getting to know Graf Philip. And she had the dreadful suspicion Ursula would be kept away from her, perhaps married off and sent abroad. There's always home, I guess. Wohl's not that far from here. But again, what would I do? The mines won't welcome a woman in the engineering branch, and dad can't afford to keep me around, even if I work in his own workshop.

A window opened somewhere above and behind her. Mary ignored it, taking it to be a servant airing a room.


She stared into space. Wohl's as good a place as any. Maybe I should wait until tomorrow and see if I can beg a ride there?


Money is going to be a problem, though. I have a couple of Marks but that won't last…

A fine white court wig dropped from above and landed in her lap. She stared at it, did a quick calculation concerning vectors and velocities and looked up and back.

Ursula was framed in a window above the ground floor, beckoning urgently. Her bright blond hair was growing out of the traditional nuns' bob now and was blowing in the gentle breeze. "Get up here, dozy! I need help!"

"Wait! Someone's coming!" Mary caught sight of a male servant walking through the gardens, bearing a silver salver and looking around as if he sought someone. He saw Mary sitting on the bench and came over. "His Excellency the Graf Philip sends his compliments, Sister, and desires you to have this first edition copy of his work." He proffered the salver upon which was a pristine copy of Dann explodiert sie!

Mary took it gratefully. "Please thank His Excellency for his gift! I shall treasure it always!"

The servant bowed and departed. Mary opened the copy and saw a handwritten note had been tucked into the first chapter. She read it. Please meet me in the Blue Parlor at twelve midnight. I desire to speak with you most urgently. Your most affectionate friend and admirer, Philip.

"Oh my!"

"Mary Amadeus! Will you get up here?" Ursula's exasperated voice came from on high.

Mary slipped the pamphlet into her purse, her heart glowing. "Coming, Ursula!"
"And bring the wig!"