“For Heaven’s sake, Ursula, you can’t get married in those clothes!” Mary said. “Shirt and britches are all very well for an adventure but hardly good enough for a bride to wear. Didn’t you bring a dress of any kind with you?”
“I didn’t exactly have time to pack, Mary A,” Ursula replied, flopping into a chair and looking down at her attire. “I had to do a moonlight flit.”
“Not for the first time. Perhaps there’s a dress to be had in the village.”
Ursula sighed. “Viehdorf isn’t exactly heaving with high couture, Mary A.”
Her friend smiled patiently. “No, but most country folk make their clothes. Perhaps we should ask around.” She glanced out the window. “Oh, Horatio’s coming down the road with Captain Creighton.”
Ursula leapt to her feet and rushed outside. Her father was conversing with the captain of his escort but his head turned to regard the two naval officers as they approached. They drew up short when they saw the prelate standing outside the humble cottage and affected their bows.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” the Archbishop responded. “I’m glad to see you.” He turned his attention to Horatio and Ursula saw her intended’s face turn pink with embarrassment. But he drew himself up and looked the Archbishop in the eye. Good for you! She thought.
“I have some business to conduct with you, young man,” her father said in a severe tone. “Certain things were not done properly.”
“I will not ask your forgiveness in spiriting Ursula away from the palace, Your Grace,” Horatio replied evenly. “We love each other. It was necessary.”
“So it seems.” Her father glanced at her. “However, I have been persuaded to overlook your elopement. If you intend to marry my daughter I will not stand in your way, Commander.”
Horatio frowned, opened and shut his mouth, thought for a moment then gave the Archbishop a quizzical look. “I collect Your Grace is fully aware of my rank?”
“Your former rank, yes.” He smiled. “I cannot have my daughter marrying a mere lieutenant, however valorous. No, as from this moment you now have a commission as Master and Commander in the Riverine Navy.”
Horatio’s eyes widened but the Archbishop was not finished. He drew a flat black velvet-covered box from his coat pocket and opened it. An ornate silver star with a fine purple enamel center twinkled in the light. “This is the Order of the Goblet, awarded to you by the Reich Duke of Beerstein in recognition of your recent heroic actions. I prevailed upon the Beerstein ambassador to allow me to present it to you. When he learned there was a romance attached to your name he was perfectly agreeable. He extends his compliments and regrets his duties with the Grand Duke prevent him from meeting you at present.”
The Archbishop draped the ribbon of the Order around Horatio’s neck, and Ursula grinned at the stunned expression upon he beloved’s face. Captain Creighton applauded then shook Horatio’s hand. “Promotion is well overdue in your case, young fellow!” he said in his execrable German. “And the rank of Master and Commander will lead to automatic promotion to Captain within three years – if you behave yourself!”
“Thank you sir!” Horatio replied, still reeling.
Ursula rushed into his arms and hugged him. “Promotion to Commander, a prestigious award, and above all, you get to marry me! It’s a hard life you lead, Horatio Horngebläse!”
Captain Creighton coughed. “I’m afraid your ceremony will have to wait for a few days, Your Excellency.” He turned to the Archbishop. “Your Grace, we are under orders to take a number of soldiers aboard and sail for Wentwitz within the hour. The enemy must be prevented from crossing the river there.”
The Archbishop nodded. “I understand. When you return from your mission I request that you release Commander Horngebläse for marriage duties for as long as he may be spared.”
“I shall do so with pleasure, Your Grace. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we must be away to our commands.”
Ursula kissed Horatio soundly then watched with a glow in her heart as we walked away. “There goes a fine young man,” her father said by her side.
“I’m glad you agree, father.”
He rested his hand upon her shoulder. “We shall return to Kimmelsbrücke. You’ll have a wider scope to make preparations for your coming nuptials there.”
Ursula frowned. “I don’t want those wretched women fussing around me, father!”
His lips twitched. “I suppose they can be kept on the leash. Two of them in particular will be bound for foreign shores. But as it happens your uncle also wishes to see you. Apparently you’re still an accredited agent of the Intelligence Service. With poor Herr Beckenbaur recovering from his wounds, you’re the only agent we posses with a detailed knowledge of the Randstadt defenses.” He turned to Mary Amadeus. “And you, er, lieutenant, also have knowledge of value to your country, both regarding Randstadt and your prowess with explosives.”
Mary came to attention and saluted. “I shall be happy to serve in whatever capacity I may, Your Grace!”
The Archbishop blinked and Ursula grinned. “Then you can start by reporting for duty as my chief – and only! – bridesmaid!”