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."

"What?"

"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.

"Psst!"

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?

"Psst!"

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!"

3 comments:

Bluebear Jeff said...

Good . . . there is more to come. I can't wait (but of course I'll have to).


-- Jeff

Herzog Ignaz said...

An assignation! How risque!

Fitz-Badger said...

I didn't realize the new chapter would start up right away. What an excellent surprise! An auspicious beginning to the next round of adventures!