The fitting had gone very well. Philip's chosen tailor had already made a selection of apparel in the colors of the Guard artillery, and it only remained for a few specific measurements and adjustments pertinent to Mary Amadeus' form to be made before she was the proud owner of three full sets of uniform. Oh, but I feel sinful pride just spilling out of me! She thought, standing before the cheval glass. The tailor had worn a stunned expression from the outset when he discovered who the new officer was. But now his face had softened with the pride of a job well-done, and the sheer pleasure Mary showed in his work.
"You're a master of your craft, mine Herr!" she said, shaking his hand.
"Thank you, Fraulein – ah, Lieutenant!" he bowed. "Anytime you need more garments, please come and see me.
Mary ran her hands over the buff lapels and down the crimson coat, taking pleasure in the fit and the form, and unintentionally causing the tailor conniptions in the sensuous way she did so. "I'll…I'll pack my things and leave," he said hurriedly.
"Thank you, again." She glanced at the clock. "I think I shall go and report for duty!"
Within minutes she was strolling happily along a passageway en-route to the conference chamber where she knew Philip would likely be. The residential and guest wings were quiet. With the sudden alarm of the invasion causing such disturbance in the great palace most folks were now thronging the public areas. So when she turned a corner she immediately became aware of two figures hurrying ahead of her. For all their speed there was a furtive air about them. She recognized one of them.
Zögernsie! But who is the other?
Working swiftly she unlaced her shiny new Hessian boots and hastened after the two men. Like many people of larger build Mary was quite light on her feet and her stockinged footsteps made no sound on the rich stone flooring. The men entered another passageway lined with yellow silk paper, that turned at a right angle to the first. She followed and risked a peep around the corner, and saw the conspirators enter a room halfway down.
Quickly, she trotted down to the door and pressed her ear to the panel. The men were talking in an agitated fashion and obviously weren't keeping their voices down. Careless.
"…far too much, too soon!" Zögernsie was complaining. "The Margraf did not give us time to prepare the ground!"
"He's young, impatient," the other man said in his higher pitched voice. "We must do what we can to aid his efforts, but ensure we keep a channel of communication open with the Dowager. At the moment that young man may well overreach himself, and that in turn will provide the Dowager with the chance to seize power."
"If we can successfully sabotage the efforts here, it will lead to negotiations in the Margraf's favor. We can then suggest giving the Grafin Ursula to the Margraf as part of reparations would not be so bad after all. That in turn will reduce her father's influence in court. He may be a gruff old bastard but he is sensitive to family."
"Yes. It's a shame Graf Philip seems so popular and, let it be stressed, surprisingly competent for his age."
"The Grand Duke is fit and well, and will reign for decades yet. Let us leave Graf Philip to those who will come after us."
Why do they hate Hetzenberg so? Mary thought, outraged at what she was hearing. She made a mental note of the location of the door. It was the entrance to a suite. Right! We'll see about this!
She hurried away in search of a servant, and two passageways from the room found a valet smoking a pipe in a quiet window nook. The man got to his feet hurriedly and thrust the reeking object behind his back. He stared, round eyed at her apparel. "Oh, never mind that thing! I'll not report you. Now tell me, who is in the third suite along in the yellow papered passageway?"
"That would be Baron Bummeln-Störrisch, Fraulein," the man said with patent relief, his eyes watering with strain as he resisted looking her up and down.
She hurried away. The valet gazed after her, shook his head, and went back to smoking his pipe.
* * *
The river had risen considerably with the melt water coming off the mountains and the current was flowing at five knots, or so Horatio judged. The flotilla headed downstream in line ahead, Styx leading, Acheron just astern of her. As he gazed at the passing banks Horatio was relieved the rising waters would cover what few navigation hazards lay in the stretch below Kimmelsbrücke. It would make their passage quicker and easier. They had passed the lower boundary post two hours ago. With the push of the current and their sweeps, the gunboats were making good time toward the scene of action.
"Cavalry, sir," Midshipman Kurt said, pointing at the east bank.
Horatio looked and saw the small mounted figures trotting along the bank then raised his telescope for a better assessment. "Crimson britches, gray jackets, blue pelisse, busbies: They must be the new regiment of hussars we've heard tell of. Fancy-looking fellows!"
"The Tuhellenbach Regiment sir. Proper peacocks!" Midshipman Kurt grinned. "Shall we fire at them?"
"Not without the Captain's consent, which I shall not ask for. Leave them be, Kurt," Horatio said, snapping the telescope shut. "We shall need our powder and shot for better purposes." He glanced at the sun, and consulted his watch. "It won't be long now…"
* * *
Ursula turned into the street leading to the barracks and saw a familiar figure coming toward her. She stiffened as the man drew up short and stared at her. His aquiline features worked with some hidden emotion and he bowed. "Your Excellency, I trust I see you well?"
"Baron Ehrgeiziger, what a… what a surprise!"
I can't help but feel sorry for him, she thought. Mary A told me he's smitten, but it makes things so awkward!
She pointed at his arm where it hung in a sling. "I trust your wound is healing well?"
"It's healing well, I thank you. It troubles me sometimes, but I was lucky."
"I'm glad." And that's no lie. He's a pleasant enough fellow behind the formality. "Will you be returning to your own country soon?"
"No. My physician has recommended a rest cure at Bolschen. I shall take advantage of my parole and visit the baths there."
"I'm sure they will do you a world of good." She smiled, feeling easier. This isn't so bad, a pleasant conversation in a public street. "It's a pity our nations are now at war, Herr Baron."
He gave her a sad smile. "It's not something I wished to see, Excellency."
"No. Neither of us would have expected this outcome when we first met, back in Randstadt."
"Indeed not." He shrugged and winced. "Such is life."
"Yes." She gestured toward the barrack gate in the distance. "I'm going to visit a friend now, Herr Baron, so I must take leave of you. I wish you an easy journey to Bolschen. Perhaps we shall see each other again."
"I hope so, Excellency." He bowed. "It's a pleasure knowing you."
Ursula curtseyed and they parted company. Poor fellow! I hope he gets over me soon, she thought.
Baron Ehrgeiziger headed around the corner and stopped outside a bakery. For a long time he stood, gazing into space, until the intelligence agent watching him wondered if he'd had some kind of seizure. Then to the man's intense surprise and discomfort, his mark looked around, saw him, and walked straight over.
"Good morning. There's something I'd like you to do for me…" the Baron said.
"Good morning. There's something I'd like you to do for me…" the Baron said.
* * *
Mary Amadeus tracked Philip down to a conference chamber where she spotted him with a coffee cup in his hand, chatting to an army officer. Without hesitation she went straight up to him, disregarding the expressions of surprise and outrage on the faces of the men around her, and fired off a sharp salute. "Lieutenant Amadeus reporting for duty sir! And I know who the second conspirator is!" she added in a whisper.
"Mary!" Philip blinked and stared at her. "What? Who?"
"Baron Bummeln-Störrisch. He and Baron Zögernsie are meeting in his chambers even as we speak."
"Dear God, Philip, what have you done?"
Mary and Philip turned as one to see General Rauppen-Schlepper staring with disbelief at Mary's uniform. "Ah, general, this is my new officer, Lieutenant Mary Amadeus," Philip said and took the man by the elbow. "But there's no time for outrage, dear chap! We have a pair of vipers in our bosom!"
Rauppen-Schlepper's outrage gave way to concern then fury as Philip related the situation. "And you swear to this?" he asked Mary.
"I do, sir!" she said, coming to attention. "So will Ursula -- the Grafin."
He looked her over, harrumphed! a couple of times then nodded. "Very well!" He gestured to an aide. "Captain Scharfe, summon the guard!"
* * *
Paul made his way to the White Horse tavern, where Kapitän Schwingen waited for him in a private room. The man seemed half asleep, but his head came up when Paul entered the room and his eyes glittered with subdued malice. "You are all packed and ready to go?" Paul asked tersely.
"Then I discharge you from your bonds. You are free to go." Schwingen stared at him. "For heaven's sake, man!" Paul snapped. "The mission's off. I'm giving you your liberty!" He jerked his head toward the door. "Now get out of here!"
Schwingen bowed his head and stood up, slowly. He groped for his pack and swung it onto his back then with a final, lowered glance at Paul, he left the room. Paul listened as his heavy footsteps faded, and breathed easier. Crossing to the window he watched the former officer walk down the street, a free man at last. I hope I did the right thing, letting him loose.
* * *
Across town, Doktor Hölzerner-Kopf was in a good mood that lasted all the way to the moment he opened his door and found two men in dark coats standing outside. "Doktor Hölzerner-Kopf, I presume?" one said with a nasty smile.
Hölzerner-Kopf looked at the file of soldiers from Kranke's regiment standing behind them and his bowels turned to water.
* * *
I can see myself being very busy in the coming month or two, but I hope to draw this particular chapter of the Chronicles to a conclusion within a week. Time and commitments being what they are, I shall novelize the coming actions between Hetzenberg and the Margraf rather than game them. Tony Bath's excellent book Setting up a wargames campaign has a number of mechanisms for deciding encounters in an abstract way using dice so I'll use them to decide the outcome.