"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."
"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!"
"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?